In late June, I had the pleasure of leading an 18-member delegation of State and private sector agricultural leaders on a 12-day Indiana Agricultural Trade Mission to China. These trade missions are important first steps in building relationships with government and business leaders upon which future trade agreements can be based.
We were warmly greeted and welcomed by dignitaries throughout our trip beginning in the Zhejiang Province, a sister-state with Indiana and the city of Hangzhou, a sister-city to Indianapolis. We then traveled to the Sichuan Province in Southwestern China as the first agricultural government trade mission to visit this region. The delegation also met with officials in Tianjin, the Hebei Province and Beijing.
At each visit, we were treated to highlights of the local area, culture and history. These official and business meetings also gave our delegation the opportunity to share information about the high value of Indiana agricultural innovation and research, all of which makes Indiana one of America’s strongest agricultural states.
I was proud to share that our state’s agriculture industry and agri-businesses contribute roughly $38 billion annually to our state’s economy with 83 percent of our land in farmland or forests and a total of 60,000 Hoosier farms.
Indiana hardwoods, grown using sustainable practices, have enabled us to be the largest in the nation in wood office furniture and cabinets. We are in the top five in the U.S. for corn and soybeans – exporting almost 1/3 of this production all over the world. Less known is our leadership in popcorn, which we are 2nd in the U.S. We are also large producers of pork and poultry, along with the genetics research for leaner and higher quality breeding. And, successes of Indiana’s specialty crops ranging from tomatoes and watermelon to cantaloupes and blueberries were shared as well. Finally, we highlighted our more than 1,400 dairy farms and almost 100 wineries and craft beer breweries, respectively.
This strong agricultural heritage is not by accident. Indiana is located in America’s heartland blessed with fertile land, plentiful water, access to ports and a strong expertise for growing things. This also supports strong agri-businesses in food processing and agricultural innovations.
To continue with these successes, as well as expand markets and grow our reach, the delegation also emphasized the technology-driven nature of Indiana, especially in the agriculture industry with nearly 500,000 people employed in agriculture, agri-business and agricultural innovation in Indiana.
One such highlight was sharing the creation of AgriNovus Indiana, a public-private partnership serving as a catalyst for innovation in the food and agriculture industries with the belief that tomorrow’s agriculture will be driven by today’s innovation. AgriNovus Indiana will further position our state as a nationally recognized leader in the development of new, innovative products and services to become the Silicon Valley of food and agriculture innovation.
Based on our successful trade mission to Asia last summer, we knew that there is a vast market for Indiana agricultural and food products to feed the billions of people living in this part of the world. This trip reinforced that the Chinese market is not one to take for granted, especially with the rapid emergence of the middle class who are demanding more protein. The U.S. "brand" in food quality is very high, providing us with even more opportunity beyond the traditional and important commodity crops to find ways that are mutually beneficial to address this and other growing needs.
I could not be more pleased with the foundations that have been laid and relationships that have been established and strengthened during our agricultural trade mission. We had an outstanding group of Hoosiers in our delegation that represented the wide range of agriculture interests in our state who were able to make many positive contacts on products ranging from corn and soybeans, to hardwoods, to specialty branded products that I am confident will provide future opportunities for our state and our delegation to strengthen Indiana’s global partnerships.
Sue Ellspermann is Lieutenant Governor of Indiana.