Growing markets increases opportunities

Sheila Harsdorf

Wisconsin is known internationally for its abundance of quality and diverse products. The depth and breadth of Wisconsin agriculture is one of the industry’s greatest strengths. I am grateful for the effort Wisconsin farmers put in day in and day out growing crops and raising livestock. When looking forward to 2018, the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection will work to grow markets for these Wisconsin agricultural products locally, across the nation and around the world.

Sheila Harsdorf

Agriculture connects us all, from the farmer to the processor to the consumer. Without farmers producing commodities, processors can’t create the value-added products that consumers look for on store shelves. If processors don’t meet the expectations of our consumers, they’ll lose them as customers going forward. If one link is missing, the entire chain is broken.

Farms, large and small, are businesses, and like all businesses, they must be profitable to be successful and continue on to the next generation. I know how challenging this is at a time when margins are slim to negative. Farmers are having to manage their input costs more than ever before, carefully calculating each business decision for the coming year. As an industry, our efforts to grow markets can be helpful in increasing profitability.

Some farmers have found great success marketing their products directly to consumers and institutions locally. Whether selling fresh fruits, vegetables or meats, these farmers are in open communication with their customer, focusing sales on a specific market. In the Local Food Marketing Practices Survey released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, it reported that Wisconsin ranks fifth nationally in the value of total direct food sales. This was a value of $431 million to the state in 2015.

While some farmers direct market, others rely on their processor, cooperative or local terminal to bring products to the consumer who may live locally or across the globe. Wisconsin agriculture has found great success in the international marketplace. The state exported $2.6 billion in agricultural products to 144 countries during the first three quarters of 2017. This is an increase of 6.7 percent in value compared to the same period last year.

Exports provide great opportunities and new markets for agriculture. Wisconsin agriculture can compete with the best, provided we are operating on a level playing field. The question is how we meet consumers’ needs and expectations. Wisconsin is fortunate to be home to great research facilities in the University of Wisconsin System. This research will be helpful to the industry as they determine the products of the future.

In order to ensure profitability for our farmers and agribusinesses, we need to grow our domestic and international markets. I look forward to working with producers, processors and the team at DATCP to strengthen relationships and encourage communication across the industry to expand market opportunities.