Officials see agriculture in action across Northwest
By DAVE WILKINS
Foreign officials representing 23 countries got a first-hand look at agricultural production and research in Idaho and Montana.
The visit Sept. 18-25 was part of an annual orientation tour sponsored by USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service.
The group included high-level food and agriculture officials from Australia, Brazil, Canada, Mexico, France, Germany, India, Iraq, Israel, Malaysia, Norway, Spain and other countries.
The visitors were well aware of Idaho's reputation for potatoes, but soon discovered that there was more to the state than spuds, said Lacey Menasco, a trade specialist with the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.
"They were really impressed with the diversity of Idaho agriculture," she said.
During the visit, foreign officials got a taste not only of Idaho's famous potatoes, but Idaho wine, caviar and tree fruit.
The tour started in Montana, where the group visited a beef genetics facility, a sugar beet farm, a bull testing facility, an apiary and Montana State University's Agricultural Bioscience Research Facility and Montana Potato Lab.
After a visit to Yellowstone National Park, the group toured several places in Idaho, including the Idaho Supreme potato processing plant at Firth, Wada Farms Potatoes fresh packing shed at Pingree and the University of Idaho Aberdeen Research and Extension Center.
At Fish Breeders of Idaho near Buhl, the visitors learned that the state's aquaculture industry includes catfish, tilapia, trout and sturgeon.
The tour wrapped up near Caldwell with visits to Ste. Chapelle Winery and Symms Fruit Ranch.
The group, which was comprised mostly of government officials, did not include buyers, so no firm deals were struck during the visit, Menasco said. However, one official from Egypt expressed an interest in Idaho seed potatoes and indicated that he would likely return for another visit, she said.
At Wada Farms Potatoes near Pingree, visitors were shown how Idaho potatoes are washed, graded, sized and packed.
Chief Operating Officer Bryan Wada said most of the company's potatoes are marketed domestically. Some are shipped to Mexico, but the weight of fresh potatoes makes overseas shipments an expensive proposition, he said.
The FAS-sponsored visit was in keeping with the Obama administration's goal to double U.S. exports in five years.
International trade plays a critical role in the health and development of the agricultural economy, FAS Administrator John Brewer said in a press release announcing the tour.
"Orientation tours not only showcase U.S. farms and their products, but facilitate face-to-face interactions that open and expand opportunities for U.S. producers and enhance global food security," he said.
Idaho sold $5.2 billion in agricultural products in 2009, including vegetable exports valued at $476 million and dairy exports valued at $141 million, according to USDA's Economic Research Service.
Montana sold $2.6 billion in ag products in 2009, including wheat exports valued at $557 million and feed exports valued at $190 million.