ST. LOUIS — States must form partnerships in order to more
effectively market agricultural products for export, according to the
agriculture directors from Illinois and Missouri.
Illinois Director of Agriculture Bob Flider and his Missouri
counterpart, Jon Hagler, told members of the St. Louis AgriBusiness Club that a
combination of international competition and domestic economic problems make
such partnerships imperative.
“We want to join with our brethren to look at how we as a
region can learn to compete globally,” Hagler said. “With Russia and China, you
see the vast change and what we can offer them. We know their consumers are
hungry for product, that their farmers are hungry for innovation. We can provide
“By providing that, we’re going to learn a lot more about
ourselves. We need to focus on those initiatives abroad. That does include
Flider agreed that those in agriculture must work in tandem,
both across interest groups and political entities.
“It’s all about working together and how stakeholders are
working together,” he said.
The global economy affects agriculture as much as any other
industry, according to Hagler. And while he acknowledged that Missouri, Illinois
and other Midwestern farm states have made progress marketing agriculture
commodities, he reiterated that a collective effort is superior.
“Each individual state has had some success in their
individual export markets. But the success they can have as a group is so much
more powerful,” he said.
“I’m certainly a big advocate not only of what we’re doing
in state of Missouri, but of joining with our sister states.
“We’re not just competing against Texas or North Dakota or
Kansas, but against groups of states — the EU, for example, or countries from
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn placed Flider — whom he appointed to
direct the agriculture department a year ago — on the state’s export advisory
council. That is part of a strategy to improve the shipment of goods
“Our governor has set a goal: He wants to double our state
exports by 2015. That’s a huge undertaking,” Flider said.
“Each year about 45 percent of our commodities are sold
overseas. That’s significant not only for farmers and people in rural Illinois,
but for the companies. We’re very fortunate to have a governor who understands
the importance of exports.”
The council’s members also include representatives from
Illinois agribusinesses and organizations such as the state Farm Bureau.
While the department oversees the agriculture industry, it
is unique among regulators, according to Flider, who had worked at a power
utility before a political career that included a stint as a member of the state
House of Representatives.
“The Department of Agriculture is primarily a regulatory
agency,” he said. “Regulators are anything but big fans of the utility
companies. Bank regulators aren’t big fans of bank companies. But when it comes
to agriculture regulation, we’re the biggest fans. It’s our No. 1 industry, and
we want to see it be a success.”
Last year, the agency led foreign buyers on a five-day trade
tour of the state. Flider said the mission resulted in projected sales of $52
million, double what had been accomplished total over the three years
Hagler noted that fewer than 2 percent of Americans live on
a farm or ranch, with much of the other 98 percent removed from agriculture two
to three generations. That makes it important that those in the industry tell
“It is incumbent upon those of us in agriculture to band
together to reach out for those things we have in common,” he said. “We have to
reach out to our consumers. Every single consumer has a stake in agriculture
doing well. They have to understand and appreciate it’s the farmer who puts food
on their table.”
American families pay an average of only about 8 percent of
their income on food, statistics indicate. That compares favorably with the
average of 15 percent to 16 percent in industrialized nations. Some families in
Third World nations pay as much as 80 percent of their income on food.
“We need to tell our story. When the American farmer does
well, America does well,” Hagler said.
“There’s more money on Main Street, small businesses thrive,
there’s more money in the church plate on Sunday and schools are better funded.
That’s because American farmers invest in America. They spend their dollars
right here at home. They keep the economy turning over.”