I was on an international trade mission a few weeks ago when a story questioning the efficacy of such efforts* ran across the AP wire. Based on my own experience, nothing could be further from the truth. Trade missions organized by Governor Otter’s office and the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s Market Development Division are delivering tangible results for Idaho’s 514 dairy-farm families.
U.S. dairy exports were valued at $7.1 billion in 2014, up 6 percent from the prior year. Despite our status as the nation’s third-largest dairy-producing state, Idaho only gets a small piece of the national dairy-export pie – 5 percent, or about $353 million. However, with help from the ISDA and the governor’s office, we’re raising interest in Idaho dairy products abroad.
My first trade mission as CEO of United Dairymen of Idaho was to Mexico last September for FEPALE, a dairy industry expo. That was only 10 months ago, and we have already seen a series of customer orders fulfilled by some of our processors. Our business development director, Brenden Fitzgerald, went to Peru two months ago on the governor’s trade mission and returned with several strong leads.
Meanwhile, the outcome from our participation in the ISDA’s most recent trade mission – to Taiwan for a food and ingredients expo called Food Taipei – looks quite promising. Seven of Idaho’s export markets are in Asia, and demand for dairy products like milk protein powder, UHT milk, butter, and cheese in Southeast Asia – particularly Taiwan – far outpaces the region’s ability to fulfill it domestically.
In Idaho we have 1.6 million people and 573,000 cows. Taiwan has 23 million people and only 100,000 cows. The country considers local fluid milk very important, and people look for products with a local logo on them, so almost 98 percent of the milk produced domestically remains in fluid form. Taiwan must look outside its borders to fulfill demand for milk protein powder, butter and cheese, and those just happen to be three of Idaho’s specialties.
While in Taipei, we also met with the Taiwan Dairy Association’s leadership, plus we hosted a dairy products dinner for a large Southeast Asia cheese-buying group. They are very interested in what Idaho has to offer, trust our safety practices, and are drawn by our reputation as part of the western United States, which boasts clean air and water. We have compelling stories to tell about Idaho’s high quality, nutritious dairy products, and they’re especially well received in these countries when told by our farmers firsthand.
Two dairy processors on the trip developed about a dozen serious potential new customers. That means the milk Idaho’s dairy farm families produce will find a home in products that are shipped around the world. Knowing they’ll have a growing number of places to send their milk gives them a greater sense of security.
As Idaho looks to grow demand for our dairy products – the state’s No. 1 ag sector – exports will undoubtedly play an increasingly important role. So will these trade missions.
* Read “Governors’ trade missions have uneven record of success” at http://bit.ly/1IMXsg8 for more details.