Almost 10 percent of Mississippi’s $11 billion in annual exports are agricultural products, and Mississippi State University Extension Service experts are working to see that amount increase.
In late January, MSU Extension hosted the International Agricultural Markets Workshop for Mississippi producers interested in or already pursuing expanding their products’ reach. The two-day event brought in experts from MSU Extension, the Mississippi Development Authority, the Southern U.S. Trade Federation and more.
“Here in Mississippi, most all of our ag products are shipped out of state, and a lot of it out of the country for export,” said Mike McCormick, president of Mississippi Farm Bureau.
“Through a study with Mississippi State University, we found that the average corn and soybean farm in the state of Mississippi will lose somewhere between 51 and 68 percent of its net farm income this year if we fail to restore trade with China and some other foreign countries.”
McCormick would like not only to see trade normalized once again, but also see the state’s exports grow.
“Anytime you see disruption in trade, disruption in markets, you’re going to see falling commodity prices, which fall right on the bottom line of our farmers,” McCormick said.
Although Mississippi ranks 31st in overall export of goods, it ranks 24th in agricultural exports. The state’s biggest international agricultural exports are soybeans, cotton, poultry and pulpwood. Canada is the state’s largest export market, followed by Panama, Mexico, China and Belgium.
Scott Cagle, MSU Extension agent in Chickasaw County, organized the two-day event.
“There are many agencies in Mississippi with resources to help our producers find and secure markets abroad. As an Extension agent, I have a responsibility to inform my producers about these tools that are available, and that is the purpose of this conference, letting the producers meet the resource providers face to face,” Cagle said.
Jonathon Guiffria, Latin America trade manager at the Mississippi Development Authority, said both the Mississippi brand and the U.S. brand is quality.
“Export is an important part of increasing sales and diversifying a marketplace,” Guiffria said. “Exporting provides for economic growth and sustainability, and makes a company less reliant on a single buyer.”
Derrick Johnson is owner of Johnson Farms in Jefferson Davis County, Miss. He grows lettuce, spinach, cabbage, tomatoes and lavender aquaponically.
“I use fish water to provide the majority of the nutrients my plants need,” Johnson said.
He grows more than 100 koi and goldfish in one tank, filters out the solids and then circulates this water to the plants. Johnson has a 2,000-square-foot greenhouse where he grows the plants, and he hopes to begin selling at the Mississippi Farmers Market in Jackson before branching out.
“I came here to get an idea of the different markets that are available,” Johnson said.
Caleb Englert, owner of Englert Farms in Houston, Miss., had a similar reason for attending the workshop. Englert has 100 acres of sweet potatoes and about 10 years’ experience growing them. He intends to grow 90 acres of organic sweet potatoes this year, up from an even split last year between acres of traditional and organic produce.
“You get about a 50 percent premium when you sell organic sweet potatoes,” Englert said. “I came to see what options are available. I’m just trying to be one step ahead when doors open.”
Brand creation, marketing plan
Rachael Carter, Extension community planning specialist, told participants that brand creation and a written marketing plan are important elements in any marketing effort.
“It’s good to have a lot of ideas about how you want to market your product, but unless you write it down, it’s not really a plan of action,” Carter said. “You have to develop a vision first of your product and brand, and your mission is what you will do to get there.
“Next, develop short- and long-term goals. If all you have is long-term goals about where you want to be in a set number of years, it will be very hard to develop the steps needed to get there.”