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MN ag searching for trade partners

Ag Commissioner Thom Petersen shares highlights of European trade mission at FFA dinner in Marshall

Photo courtesy of Marty Seifert Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen, second from right, tours the Granite Falls Energy plant on Monday afternoon during a visit to southwest Minnesota.

MARSHALL — Agriculture is a crucial industry for Minnesota — but the importance of the state’s farms goes far beyond the U.S., Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen said.

During a recent trade mission to Europe, officials in the U.K. and Finland were interested in working with Minnesota, he said.

“We kept adding meetings because people heard we were there, and wanted to continue business with us,” Petersen said.

During a visit to southwest Minnesota on Monday, Petersen gave an update on Minnesota agriculture and shared highlights of the trade visit. Petersen spoke to area FFA chapters and members of the public at the Marshall FFA Fall Dinner.

“It’s great to be here in this area,” Petersen said.

Petersen said Minnesota farmers have faced a challenging few years, going from one of the wettest years on record, to the COVID-19 pandemic and this year’s severe drought.

“COVID was really challenging,” Petersen said. “We unfortunately had to depopulate hogs and turkeys, but I’m really proud of the companies and people that worked through it and really rebounded.”

This year, Minnesota was faced with its worst drought since 1988, Petersen said. “But it’s been raining through the fall, and I think and hope things are looking good,” he said.

Petersen said one of the interesting parts of his job as ag commissioner is being “kind of the chief cheerleader” for Minnesota agriculture. Last weekend he returned from a trade mission including Gov. Tim Walz and 60 Minnesotans. It was the first in-person trade mission since the start of the pandemic.

Minnesota is usually part of about three trade missions a year, Petersen said.

“We’re really competing against other states,” to find potential trade partners, he said.

Thanks to technology, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t actually put a stop to trade missions last year. However, Petersen said virtual trade missions aren’t the same as building in-person relationships.

“In the United Kingdom, we’ve been working on a relationship a lot,” Petersen said.

The trade group visited the U.K. and Finland, two countries that are each about the geographical size of Minnesota but have drastically different populations and needs, he said.

Petersen said the U.K. has a population of 67 million, and officials there were looking for potential sources to supplement domestic food supplies.

“With the new free trade agreement that (the U.S.) can craft, Minnesota is well situated to export biofuels and edible beans like navy beans and pinto beans,” Petersen said. “We’re really excited about that.”

Finland wasn’t as big an import market for Minnesota, but it was interested in investing in American companies, Petersen said.

“The other piece that was really interesting was how much the University of Minnesota was well-known,” Petersen said of the trade mission. “It shows how our university system can place people, and does worldwide work on a lot of different things.”

In addition to speaking at Monday’s FFA dinner, Petersen met with Marshall Mayor Bob Byrnes, toured the Granite Falls Energy ethanol plant, and met with representatives of Ralco and tru Shrimp to learn about their businesses.

“Having that opportunity to sit down with him was excellent,” said Jeffrey Oestmann, CEO of Granite Falls Energy. Oestmann said he talked with Petersen about topics including the role of renewable fuels like ethanol in reducing Minnesota’s carbon footprint. “The things the state is looking for, we’re already doing today,” Oestmann said.

“There’s a lot of really cool agricultural things in the Marshall area,” Petersen told the audience at Monday’s dinner. “It was just amazing to see everything you have here. I’m excited to come back and spend more time.”

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