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Trade Mission Turns to Agriculture
By Andrew Haeg
October 27, 2000
Part to Minnesota Public Radio's coverage of Jesse in Mexico
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Agriculture was the focus as Gov. Jesse Ventura's trade mission to Mexico entered its final day. Governor Ventura and Minnesota agricultural representatives visited the city of Guadalajara, where they toured a food processing plant and met with local government officials. Minnesota farm cooperatives along on the trip are hoping the contacts will help their members find new markets for their crops.

Gov. Ventura at the agriculture exposition in Guadalajara. To see more photographs, visit the Jesse in Mexico section.
(MPR Photo/Andrew Haeg)
ONLY 12 PERCENT of Mexico's land is arable. And with a fast-growing population of more than 100 million, Mexico imports a great deal of farm produce to feed its people. Last year about $46 million of Mexico's imports came from Minnesota. They arrive on the country's east coast via the Mississippi River, or, increasingly, come directly to Guadalajara and other cities on railroad cars from the United States.

But crop prices in Minnesota, as elsewhere, are near record lows, and many of the state's farmers are sitting on surpluses. So it was with keen interest that Minnesota's agriculture contingent met with local food processors and producers to discover how to boost exports to Mexico.

Gary Anderson is vice president of grain marketing for Inver Grove Heights-based Cenex Harvest States, one of the United States' largest co-ops. Speaking after a tour of a grain processing plant in Guadalajara, he said farmers must find new markets for their crops if they want to make money.

"What we're always looking for is more places to send grain because we are a surplus producer of grain in the United States. So having opportunities to open markets not just in Mexico but around the world is what's important to us and should be important to U.S. agriculture," Anderson said.

But, increasingly, farmers are learning that just exporting more crops isn't enough. Brent Sorenson, CEO of FarmConnect, a new farmer-owned co-op based in Warroad, Minnesota, said it's time co-ops learned how to market directly to the consumer.

"We want to be able to bring the market back to the consumer," said Sorenson. "Right now they feel that they're not connected, they don't understand the needs of the people that are using their product."

FarmConnect Chairman Art Brandli farms 2,200 acres of corn, soybeans and canola near Warroad. Like the rest of FarmConnect's members, he's contending with low commodity prices, and hopes to use this trade mission to find new opportunities.

Brandli spoke to the manager of the Guadalajara processing plant. He said he'd be interested in buying his canola meal.

"They're sourcing a lot of their product from Canada, and it's rather interesting that the majority of my canola on my farm goes to Canada, and I was talking to the general manager, and I thought, 'What an excellent opportunity!' They want the meal, the United States and Canada wants the oil. Here's an excellent opportunity for everyone to win on this," Brandli said.

In Guadalajara, the home of Corona Beer, Gov. Ventura discovered the long reach of Minnesota's agriculture products.

I found out that the great Corona Beer is possible because they use our corn products to do it. So whenever you drink a Corona, think of Minnesota," Ventura said.

Ventura and his contingent also visited an agriculture exposition. Strolling past stalls with well-fed cows, and roosters in cages, Ventura told a Mexican journalist he felt right at home.

"They have the food, and you've got chickens and pigs and horses and cows and all that, so it reminds me a lot of the Minnesota State Fair, which we have at the end of August every year," Ventura said.

Ventura is returning to the Twin Cities, concluding his second international trade mission.