MADISON — Wisconsin currently ranks 12th in the U.S. for agricultural exports, with those specific exports generating $3.5 billion for the state in 2018. Those Wisconsin products traveled to 143 countries last year, including the state’s top markets of Canada, China and Mexico.

Additionally, total Wisconsin exports, including manufactured goods, were valued at $22.7 billion in 2018, an increase of nearly 2 percent from the same period last year.

Working for Wisconsin exports behind the scenes at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection is a team at the International Agribusiness Center, who, since 1966, have been helping Wisconsin companies succeed in their exporting efforts. Whether an agribusiness in new to exporting or seasoned at international business, the team makes their expert knowledge, connections and resources available to help Wisconsin companies grow their business worldwide.

Mark Rhoda-Reis, director of the International Agribusiness Center, sees the team as an asset to Wisconsin businesses, offering a variety of services to emerging and experienced exporters alike. Beginning exporters can take advantage of one-on-one consultations and educational seminars to start, leading into continuing education on export documentation, market research and financing and eventually working with the team on promotions and market development programs.

In 2018, International Agribusiness Center staff assisted 134 companies through their export development services, generating $21.6 million in export sales as a result of those services. Rhoda-Reis and his team expect an additional $12.4 million in sales going forward.

“It’s a great number but we’re looking to improve that,” he said.

Also in 2018, 90 companies participated in IABC coordinated events and 39 Wisconsin companies accessed $1.4 million from the center’s funding sources for continued export promotion. Notably, client interactions with the center included 20 interactions with businesses in the animal feed sector, 27 from the food sector, 45 from the dairy sector and 5 from the ag equipment sector. Other scattering interactions with the center in 2018 came from businesses in beverages, cosmetics, ginseng, fur skins, genetics, livestock, lumber, pet food and plant genetics, to name a few.

Dane and Milwaukee counties led the interaction count for 2018 with over 10 businesses from each county connecting with staff at the International Agribusiness Center. A higher number of interactions were also recorded with businesses in Brown, Manitowoc and Marathon counties.

Lisa Stout, whose work at the center primarily focuses on processed food and food ingredients to Asian, Canadian and Middle Eastern markets, shared several major projects the center worked on in 2018.

Center staff continued work with major stakeholders on the Wisconsin Dairy Export Initiative, which started last year between partners Dairy Farmers of Wisconsin, UW Center for Dairy Research, Wisconsin Cheese Makers Association and the U.S. Dairy Export Council. Through the initiative, 11 buyers were hosted, touring cheese plants and meeting one-on-one with Wisconsin cheese companies. Six months after the buyers mission, those companies that participated have reported over $400,000 in export sales, Stout said.

Discussions from that mission are ongoing, with Stout hoping to continue expansion with the initiative. The next buyers mission has already been scheduled for June 2019.

Staff also organized food export and cheese export seminars and hosted a value-added feed buyers mission at World Dairy Expo. The center also utilized a grant they received from the USDA for a ginseng promotion project targeted at ginseng activities in India and were involved with the China Import Fair for the first time, collaborating with FoxConn to introduce new products.

A dozen or so trade missions initiated by center staff both inside and outside the U.S. also occurred in 2018, with staff participating in a number of international trade shows as well. The team spent a lot of time in Asia in 2018, with an increased focus on engaging with those markets.

Within the state, center staff hosted 16 delegations from China, India, Japan, Nigeria, South Korea, Russia, Taiwan and Vietnam and presented 12 times to various organizations around the state about their services and Wisconsin exports. Seventy-six Wisconsin companies also received one-on-one consultations from International Agribusiness Center staff.

Enrique Gandara, who specializes in animal feed, livestock and genetics and agricultural equipment with a focus on Latin American, European Union and Middle Eastern markets, explained more about one mission in particular, which took him and five Wisconsin companies to Mexico for the CIGAL Dairy Conference, the biggest dairy trade show in Mexico. He and the companies met with representatives from throughout Mexico and went on at least four farm tours, “promoting the state of Wisconsin to the maximum,” Gandara said.

“Mexico is one of our best trading partners for Wisconsin and the U.S.,” he added.

Staff at the International Agribusiness Center have set goals for 2019, and are looking forward to the scheduled June buyers mission. They are also working on an e-commerce project in China and a USDA agricultural trade promotion of Wisconsin ginseng; looking into new market promotions in Australia, Peru, Vietnam and the United Kingdom amidst uncertainty with tariffs; creating a marketing improvement program for Wisconsin mink, an area the center has not explored too heavily; and researching alternate funding opportunities to support the center and its services.

For more information about the IABC, call 800-462-5237 or email international@wisconsin.gov, or visit https://datcp.wi.gov/Pages/Growing_WI/InternationalAgribusiness.aspx.