Connecting Rural Businesses with International Customers

By Phil Karsting, Administrator, Foreign Agricultural Service 

2013 was a record year for America agricultural exports, with $141 billion in sales and an additional $180 billion in related business activity. We expect even greater things in 2014, when international sales of U.S. farm and food products are expected to reach $149.5 billion. Taken as a whole, these numbers are impressive – but they impress me even more when I think about all the American companies who made this happen. 

Many of these companies are based in rural communities, and they employ more than a million U.S. workers to produce products that are valued throughout the world. It’s amazing to think about those individuals, from small towns across America, who produce everything from cheese to pet food to distillers dried grains. It makes me proud of the work USDA is doing to connect these rural producers to international markets. 

USDA is committed to helping American businesses, especially those in rural areas, continue to thrive. While exports are currently at record levels, there is still room for expansion. Today, only 1 percent of U.S. companies export, but 95 percent of the world's consumers live outside the borders of the United States. Population growth and rising incomes – particularly in the developing world – are creating significant new opportunities. 

We are helping companies like Bunker Hill Cheese Co. of Millersburg, Ohio, to identify and enter these international markets.  Working with the Food Export Association of the Midwest USA, one of the state regional trade groups that partners with the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), Bunker Hill has been able to avail itself of a number of activities and services supported by FAS’s Market Access Program. The company has taken part in exporter education events, made contact with 20 international buyers visiting the United States, travelled on a trade mission to Mexico to gain insight into the competitive and retail landscapes there. Programs like this allow American companies to see the potential in exporting their products and give them the knowledge and skills to be successful. 

Our goal is to make the connection between the rural agricultural producer and the global market. During the month of June, we will be highlighting the Made in Rural America Initiative and USDA’s efforts to help rural businesses and leaders access federal resources to connect with new customers and markets abroad. Learn more about how to access USDA export programs at http://www.fas.usda.gov/topics/exporting.