Wisconsin agriculture is taking another step toward realizing its global aspirations.
In mid-April, the state announced the formation of the Wisconsin Agricultural Export Advisory Council, a governing body that’ll incorporate representatives from every agricultural industry. The council is empowered to guide programs tied to the Wisconsin Initiative for Agricultural Exports.
The initiative is a state-funded proposal authorized in 2021 where agencies, grants, and organizational capital will be used to promote Wisconsin agriculture on the global stage. Meeting at least twice a year, the advisory council includes international trade experts, state legislators, as well as representatives from agriculture organizations and agribusinesses in crop, dairy and meat industries throughout Wisconsin.
Federal authorities have typically been the focal point of private-public partnerships between government and ag companies seeking to establish a foothold in foreign markets.
Federal partnerships remain intact, but the initiative means that Wisconsin is taking an active role in promoting Wisconsin businesses in the export economy, said Mark Rhoda-Reis, director of the International Agribusiness Center at the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection.
“We want to make sure that Wisconsin national products have a strong share,” Rhoda-Reis said. “So, in order to do that, you need to reach out to those markets to help develop a company to connect for the most part. We’re wanting to continue to promote our agricultural products globally to help companies get their products in markets outside of the United States. With state funding, We’re able to do that and be more responsive.”
“The Wisconsin Initiative for Agricultural Exports gives funding by the governor and the Legislature directly to DATCP for export promotion activities and grants to businesses and organizations,” Lisa Stout, an economic development consultant with DATCP. “This Wisconsin Initiative for Agricultural Exports is really a shot in the arm for us to help boost our exports and really boost our agricultural organizations and companies.”
Wisconsin’s agricultural exports clock in at $3.96 billion, or roughly 13-15% of the state’s total exports in a given year. This marks an upswing. In decades past, exports were a largely inconsequential fraction of the state’s economy, while three of the last five years have actually experienced periods of decline.
This dip, Stout and Rhoda-Reis said, is tied to extraneous factors like early disruptions of COVID-19 and years of the Trump trade wars.
As such, the initiative represents a response to a shifting global economy — one where officials see a call for action to protect Wisconsin producers, as well as opportunities for the state’s export economy. The Wisconsin Initiative for Agricultural Exports sets a goal to increase agricultural exports by 25% over 2021 numbers by June 30, 2026.
Tied to this is a push for a strident interpretation of Wisconsin’s identity on the global stage. Just as the initiative represents Wisconsin’s concerted effort to establish a share of the market, state officials have described it in similar bold language.
In January, Randy Romanski, the state’s agriculture secretary, characterized the initiative as Wisconsin building on a proven track record of high-quality products and betting on itself.
“It’s so important,” Romanski said. “Wisconsin should never have to apologize for competing in the high end, because we do.”