After returning from his first-ever trade mission to South Korea recently, Gov. Mark Dayton, along with a delegation of Minnesota agriculture representatives and education, business and civic leaders, was optimistic about the possible expansion of export partnerships and growth market for Minnesota.
"I am told by the participants that the trade mission was extremely helpful to many of them in strengthening existing ties and forging new relationships that will benefit them," Dayton said in a news release. "I am optimistic that the personal relationships I established with the chairmen of major Korean and Japanese corporations will increase significantly future possibilities for new jobs in Minnesota."
Along with delegates from the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, the Minnesota Farmers Union, the Minnesota Farm Bureau, the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and the Midwest Dairy Association, AURI (Agricultural Utilization Research Institute) representative Dennis Timmerman accompanied Dayton to South Korea.
"The Minnesota Farmers Union and the Soybean Growers Association co-funded my travel costs," Timmerman said. "It was a really interesting trip."
As director of operations in Marshall and project development director for AURI, a unique and dynamic non-profit organization that works to develop innovative uses for agricultural commodities, Timmerman explored emerging markets for agricultural processing co-products and biobased materials while overseas.
"While Minnesota-grown raw commodities are exported around the world, it has been more of a challenge to get value-added or finished ag-based products into international markets," Timmerman said. "Shipping finished or enhanced products instead of solely marketing raw commodities increases the value that can be captured closer to the source. That benefits local economies, even if the end products are shipped thousands of miles away."
Timmerman pointed out that thousands of Minnesota agricultural products are found in local markets, ranging from food items to livestock feed, fiber, plastics and fuel.
"Minnesota farm goods are also shipped across the globe to hungry markets worldwide," Timmerman said. "Those international connections don't just happen. Like Minnesota crops, they must be carefully cultivated."
It makes sense to explore new market opportunities, Timmerman said, since South Korea is already one of the nation's top export markets with the potential for increasing consumption.
"I think it's really promising for Minnesota," he said. "We have the materials they're looking for in soybean and pork. They're also very happy with the quality and cleanliness of the corn from Minnesota. They want more corn."
In addition to direct meetings that were lined up by the Minnesota Trade Organization for Korean interest in procuring Berkshire Pork, the agricultural delegates also met with a CEO from Hanwha Corporation who had attended school with Dayton.
"They're interested in a protein source for their aquaculture in Korea," Timmerman said. "Their fish farms are a growing market there."
Groups also met with CJ Industries.
"They have a large need for soybean meal from the U.S.," Timmerman said. "CJs manufactures everything, from computers to explosives. They're very diverse. They own Samsung."
While in Seoul, Timmerman quickly realized that Korea was much more developed than he had anticipated.
"It was an eye-opener," he said. "Their roads are bustling with traffic and their buildings are very modern. It resembled most big cities in America, except that everyone lives in high-rise condos. There's no such thing as single home families."
Seoul is Korea's largest city, and home to 10 million people, Timmerman said.
Timmerman said Korea's economy seems to be robust.
"The majority of their food is imported, so the cost of food is extremely high," he said. "It's double our cost. The cost of living is also high. Homes are very expensive."
Much like Japan, Korea lacks natural resources, like land.
"They just don't have the land space," Timmerman said. "Only 15 percent can be used for agriculture or suitable for farming. For their economy to prosper, they need to import as much natural products as possible. They want to own their own processing and manufacturing plants."