New Minnesota AgriGrowth director sets focus on trade

Written by Jonathan Eisenthal

From railroads to power companies, makers of pet food and makers of ice cream, corn farmers to craft brewers—the reach of the agriculture and food sector in Minnesota is extraordinary. And the Minnesota AgriGrowth Council is the group that brings them all together.

Minnesota AgriGrowth sees itself as the organization that promotes conversation, visions of common ground, and speaking with one voice to strengthen Minnesota agriculture, according to executive director Tamara Nelsen, who took the helm on February 1.

Nelsen comes from a 20-year tenure with Illinois Farm Bureau, with a background in agricultural trade policy and an international relations degree from Stanford University. Minnesota AgriGrowth is a non-partisan organization formed in 1968, with 180 current members that include everyone from individual row-crop and dairy farmers to Fortune 500 companies.

Tamara Nelsen

Nelsen, one could observe, is well-suited to this position at this time, when trade is top-of-mind for all of agriculture. 

“Probably our biggest challenge right now, no matter how many of us gather together in a group, is market prices and trade,” said Nelsen. “Minnesota AgriGrowth has been working with the other associations and groups to get the word out about how important it is to get the [US-Mexico-Canada agreement] passed this fall. Also, we need to get these trade issues solved with China.”

Nelson hopes that momentum will help finalize agreements with Japan, Europe and possible getting back into the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which Nelson believes leaving was a mistake.

Canada and Mexico are by far Minnesota’s largest foreign ag markets—representing 6.9 billion dollars in annual value of the state’s ag exports. Congress is set to debate the ratification of the agreement this fall.

Nelsen points proudly to the excellent competitive position American farmers have created for themselves in the past three decades, by continually adopting new technology and best practices, and aggressively seeking new markets for their products. Free trade and competition result in the most sustainable economic system, while trade protection stalls development, Nelsen believes. 

She is optimistic that the current administration’s anti-free trade moves have not caused permanent damage.

“There are many countries who have turned to Argentina or Brazil for cheaper soybeans or corn over the years, that now are perhaps turning back to the United States. And certainly, Brazil and Argentina got a leg over us in the current dispute (with China),” Nelsen said. “The flexibility to change suppliers is probably a good thing, over time, and I am optimistic that we will not permanently damage our relationships with our trading partners.”

Still, Nelson believes regaining those relationships will not be easy.

“It is something where our farmers, and our associations and our export organizations are going to have to work very hard, all over again, to make sure we reassure our trading partners and maintain our good relations in the future,” she said.

As a member, the Minnesota Corn Growers Association works alongside AgriGrowth in its efforts to advocate for Minnesota’s ag sector.

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