The appetite for Mississippi’s packaged agricultural products overseas is expected to grow along with packaged produce from other Southern states over the next decade.
This presents potentially lucrative opportunities for Mississippi’s small specialty farmers and packagers, says Jerry Hingle, executive director of the Southern United States Trade Association, a non-profit agricultural export trade development organization comprised of the Departments of Agriculture of Mississippi and 14 other states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico. Various geographic regions of the United States have their own agricultural trade export association.
Cotton is king and poultry is a close second in Southern agricultural exports. But it’s hard to miss the growth in items such as packaged meats, nuts, fruits, sweet potatoes, horticulture products and even condiments, Hingle said. “We’re seeing the strongest demand in value-added (items) and (packaged) meats.”
Newly released U.S. Department of Agriculture forecasts say U.S. agriculture exports in 2014 will approach the all-time record reached in 2013, with shipments forecasted to eclipse $137 billion, just shy of the $140 billion reached in 2013. Hingle attributed the lower revenue forecast to an expected drop in crop prices but noted the volume of ag exports will be higher this year than last.
The figures show particularly strong growth in exports of consumer goods, Hingle said. “This is where we’ve become more competitive and consumer demand is growing fastest, particularly in Asia where incomes are rising.”
Figures for Mississippi value-added ag exports show an increase in packaged goods to $19.7 million from $17.9 million in 2008. Mississippi’s packaged goods exports rose steadily from $28.5 million in 2009, to $42.2 million in 2010 before climbing to $63.7 million in 2011.
Mississippi’s exports of processed vegetables have shown strong progress as well the past five years. They grew from $2.9 million in 2008 to $5.4 million last year.
While Mississippi’s tree nut exports have been miniscule, new markets await them in China, especially for pecans. The Southern grown pecan became a favorite in China after a 2008 walnut crop failure there forced a search for alternatives, Hingle said. “The Chinese are coming to orchards [in the South] and just buying up the year’s production. They are snatching up as much as they can get their hands on.”
Susan Head, a staffer in the Mississippi Department of Agriculture’s marketing department, serves as the department liaison to Hingle’s trade association. Together, they work to get Mississippi’s small ag producers involved in exporting.
A key part of the effort is pre-qualifying ag producers. The signups are free, Head said, and growers simply need to be registered as a business with the Secretary of State and be able to place either “Made in U.S.A.” or “Made in Mississippi” decals on their products or packages, she said.
Co-ops can also pariticpate.
The pre-qualification enables growers to take part in inbound and outbound trade missions and meet with foreign trade groups on their visits to the South. A branding program the Southern United States Trade Association offers reimburses the pre-qualified small producers and businesses for up to half of their international marketing expenses including advertising, in-show promotions at trade shows, Head said.
Also, the association free marketing kits and marketing plans for each country a producer or business wants to market in, she added..
Head said nothing should surprise producers in Mississippi when it comes to products the Chinese desire. She visited the Asian country on a trade mission in November. On a trip down a super market aisle, what did she see? “Pirouline wafers made in Madison, Ms.”