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Photo courtesy of Marty Seifert Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen, second from right, tours the Granite Falls Energy plant Monday afternoon during a visit to southwest Minnesota.

MARSHALL – Agriculture is a crucial industry for Minnesota – but the importance of state farms extends far beyond the United States, said Minnesota Agriculture Commissioner Thom Petersen.

On a recent trade mission to Europe, officials from the UK and Finland were interested in working with Minnesota, he said.

“We kept adding meetings because people heard we were there and wanted to continue working with us” said Petersen.

During a visit to southwest Minnesota on Monday, Petersen provided an update on Minnesota agriculture and shared highlights from the trade visit. Petersen addressed FFA locals and members of the public at the Marshall FFA Fall Dinner.

“It’s great to be here in this area”, said Petersen.

Petersen said farmers in Minnesota have faced a few tough years, going from one of the wettest years on record, to the COVID-19 pandemic and this year’s severe drought.

“COVID was really a challenge” said Petersen. “We unfortunately had to depopulate the pigs and turkeys, but I’m really proud of the companies and people who worked on it and really bounced back.”

This year, Minnesota faced its worst drought since 1988, Petersen said. “But it rained all fall, and I think and hope things are going well”, he said.

Petersen said that one of the interesting parts of his job as Agriculture Commissioner is being “kind of the chief cheerleader” for Minnesota agriculture. Last weekend he returned from a trade mission that included Governor Tim Walz and 60 Minnesotans. This was the first face-to-face trade mission since the start of the pandemic.

Minnesota typically participates in about three trade missions per year, Petersen said.

“We are really in competition with other states”, to find potential business partners, he said.

Thanks to technology, the COVID-19 pandemic did not end trade missions last year. However, Petersen said virtual trade missions are not the same as in-person relationship building.

“In the UK, we worked a lot on a relationship”, said Petersen.

The trade group visited the United Kingdom and Finland, two countries that are each roughly the geographic size of Minnesota but have drastically different populations and needs, he said.

Petersen said the UK has a population of 67 million and officials are looking for potential sources to supplement national food supplies.

“With the new free trade agreement that (the United States) can conclude, Minnesota is well positioned to export biofuels and edible beans like white beans and pinto beans. “ said Petersen. “We’re really excited about this.”

Finland wasn’t such a big import market for Minnesota, but it was interested in investing in American companies, Petersen said.

“The other thing that was really interesting was how well known the University of Minnesota was,” Petersen said of the trade mission. “It shows how our university system can place people and work around the world on a lot of different things.”

In addition to speaking at Monday’s FFA dinner, Petersen met with Mayor Marshall Bob Byrnes, toured the Granite Falls Energy ethanol plant, and met with representatives from Ralco and tru Shrimp to learn more about their companies.

“Having this opportunity to sit down with him was excellent” said Jeffrey Oestmann, CEO of Granite Falls Energy. Oestmann said he spoke with Petersen about topics such as the role of renewable fuels like ethanol in reducing Minnesota’s carbon footprint. “The things that the State is looking for, we are already doing them today”, Oestmann said.

“There are a lot of really interesting agricultural things in the Marshall area”, Petersen told the public at Monday’s dinner. “It was just amazing to see everything you have here. Glad to come back and spend more time.

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