Klobuchar talks farm exports with local ag businesses at AURI

MARSHALL – Small ag businesses need the Export-Import Bank, the official export credit agency of the United States, say Marshall business owners. The Export-Import Bank provides loans, loan guarantees and insurance policies that increase export opportunities for U.S. businesses, according to a report by U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, who is the vice chairwoman on the joint economic committee.

Klobuchar stopped in Marshall on her way to Farmfest Tuesday morning. She is on a 21-county, three-day tour. Klobuchar met with local agricultural business leaders to discuss farm exports. She met with them in an Agricultural Utilization Research Institute meeting room at Southwest Minnesota State University.

SMSU President Connie Gores told the group that SMSU is growing – there are 440 freshmen enrolled – and SMSU is “starting a new major in ag education. We’re working with community colleges.”

Klobuchar said that was good that SMSU is adding an ag major.

“We’re going to need more and more workers to fill the jobs,” she said. “Seventy percent of manufacturers in Minnesota have jobs that are unfilled.”

Jon Knochenmus, president of Ralco Nutrition, which provides agricultural technology through animal nutrition and enhanced plant performance, said he also appreciated SMSU’s implementing an ag major.

“I’m glad to see our local university is getting engaged in agriculture,” he said.

Knochenmus said foreign countries like American technology and technology in agriculture is needed more than ever.

“We need a safe, abundant food supply and in the next 40 to 50 years we have to double it,” he said. “With 8 percent arable land, the only way to do that is with technology if we’re going to meet this global food supply.”

Knochenmus said his company, which is based in Marshall and is active in 31 countries, has offices in Thailand for the Asian market and Ecuador for the Latin American market.

“The world is hungry for foreign technology,” he said. “But it takes 18 to 24 months to get a product registered to sell in most countries. That’s a lot of time and expense.”

Klobuchar said she knows – she is on the president’s export committee.

The reason for the delay is because of regulation – people are concerned about the food supply and the environment, Knochenmus said.

“But you have to do business,” Klobuchar finished for him.

Midwest Ag Enterprises is another company in Marshall that exports its products in addition to its domestic sales. Jim Moline, Midwest Ag president, said he visited China recently and toured a dairy farm that had 200,000 dairy cows.

“What they need to feed those cows…” he said. “There is a lot of opportunity there.”

Moline said “a lot of countries like U.S. products. We proudly slap a ‘made in the US’ sticker on.”

“Because of the quality,” Klobuchar said. “Sometimes regulation is good.”

Chad Jensen, the Ralco chief financial officer, said, “Ten percent of our sales are exports. We are in 24 countries, mainly Latin America and Asia. With new customers – it’s hard getting a financial history. We have to use cash.”

Randy Serreyn, a banker at Bremer Bank, said financing business exports is too risky for regular banks and for the small business owners.

“Financing Ralco and Midwest Ag would be viewed as unsafe lending by regulators,” he said.

Klobuchar said the re-authorization of Export-Import Bank has been introduced in the Senate with bipartisan support.

“The problem right now is in the House (of Representatives) because of house leadership. If the House doesn’t pass it, we don’t have an Export-Import Bank,” she said.

The Ex-Im Bank’s authorization is set to expire at the end of September of this year.

“The Ex-Im Bank is great for creating jobs here, and it helps other countries as well,” Knochenmus said.