Expanding export markets is important to Wisconsin agriculture, says Agriculture Secretary Ben Brancel, "Because 95% of the agriculture products we produce are sold outside the borders of Wisconsin."
From January to December 2014, Wisconsin exported more than $3.6 billion worth of agricultural products to more than 145 countries.
"This value for agricultural exports is a record for Wisconsin and is an increase of 13.6% compared to the same time period in 2013," Brancel says. "This is the fifth year in a row that we have seen an increase in agricultural exports."
The top five markets for Wisconsin agricultural exports are Canada, Mexico, China, Korea and Japan. According to the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, Wisconsin is ranked 13th among all states for the value of agricultural exports.
"There are bigger agricultural states than Wisconsin, but we are higher on the list because of how valuable our ag products are," Brancel says.
The eight-day trade mission to China from April 18-25 provided learning opportunities not only for the Chinese, but for the 34 Wisconsin farmers, agribusiness people, educators and DATCP officials on the trip, the agriculture secretary noted.
"We put together an education forum," Brancel says. "There were 300 people in attendance. There were earphones for everyone so you could understand the presentations. If a Chinese person was speaking, there was an English-speaking interpreter and if a U.S. presenter was speaking, a Chinese person could hear what they were saying in Chinese. They had huge participation on TV and radio, too. I think this is the first time a state has tried education programming with farmers presenting."
Brancel says there were Chinese dairy farmers attending the forum from very large farms.
"Their farms are productive by China standards, but not in U.S. standards. Their large farms are hold overs of the old state-run farms like they used to have in Russia. They have 300,000 cows on one state farm."
The ag secretary says he had discussions with the director of Heilongjiang Animal Husbandry Bureau, the director of the state farm, and Gov. Lu Hao.
"Gov. Lu said he wants to build 100 1,000-cow dairies in China that the government would invest in," Brancel says.
Currently, Brancel says, Nestle's has a 3,000-cow dairy in China.
"And they are building a smaller 1,000-cow dairy," he explains. "Nestle's partners with the government, but it's a Nestle's led mission."
According to Brancel, UW-Madison dairy science professors Andy Johnson, Pam Ruegg and Milo Wiltbanks have all taught at the Nestle's Institute in China. They have each spent two weeks to a month teaching there.
"You can't just decide you want to be there -- you have to have something to offer that contributes to education."
Brancel says during his visit, he spoke to Chinese officials about trade issues.
"We can sell bovine embryos and semen to China, but we can't export live dairy and beef animals to China. I spoke to them about that."
Brancel also spoke to Chinese officials about intellectual properties.
"For example, people in China highly value Wisconsin ginseng," Brancel explains. "Some people in China try to pass off inferior ginseng as being produced in Wisconsin, but it is not which damages the reputation of Wisconsin ginseng products."
Brancel says developing markets, particularly with China and other Asian countries, takes time, but he thinks it is well worth it. He invited government officials to visit Wisconsin.
Trade missions, he says, are often planned to conduct meetings between government officials, showcase Wisconsin companies and technology at shows or share skills and educate.
"I think we covered all three goals on this trip," Brancel says.