Kansas farmers and ranchers set a new record for agricultural exports in 2022 by shipping nearly $5.5 billion worth of food and farm-grown products to other countries. About half of that total came from our neighbors. Mexico and Canada, first and third, respectively, are crucial partners not only because of proximity but also a robust free-trade framework. Japan’s desire for quality beef put it in the second spot to round out the top three.
That’s a big impact for a small state, but this trade wasn’t a one-sided deal either. As Kansas and the U.S. in general shipped corn and wheat to Mexico, we also imported tequila, tomatoes and avocados to make taco night more fun and tasty, too.
Trading with Canada and Japan is a similar give and take with beneficial results for everyone, especially those who enjoy seafood. I enjoy a good filet of fried catfish as much as anyone, but I’m willing to bet bluefin tuna is superior for making sushi.
These exchanges are a lot like life, and not every trade partner is a good or desirable one. But for farmers and ranchers, trade is vital for two reasons. First, American farms and ranches are the most efficient in the world, and they grow far more than the domestic market would ever come close to consuming. Second, overseas consumers also have different tastes than you and I do.
There’s not a large market for things like tongue, intestines and organ meat in the U.S., where offal is more likely to be discarded than consumed. But for other regions, these items are often sought after as delicacies. Trade helps meet this demand, lowers the local price and increases the value of animals raised by U.S. farmers and ranchers.
Food isn’t the only thing that benefits from trade, it’s just a personal favorite. Cross-border transactions have the potential to create wealth by leveraging comparative advantage and specialization across the globe. Different climates and soils paired with opposing seasons and tastes are just a few reasons why food trade is valuable to anyone who likes variety.
Agriculture is the reason the United States has the largest economy in the world, but it’s not because we grow the most food. While farmers and ranchers occupy much of the vast area of the United States, they’re just a small portion of the 330 million Americans. Less than 2 percent, in fact. And while we certainly enjoy the fruits of the labor, the other 98 percent of us are free to hone our skills and innovate to create things we couldn’t have otherwise.
If you break down Kansas’ ag exports by commodity, then the state’s second most valuable export was meat and offal. Grains like corn and wheat were fourth, followed by oil seeds like soybeans in sixth place. First, third and fifth were aircraft and parts, industrial machinery and electric machinery, respectively.
So, the next time you fly on an airplane or pick up a power tool or just check your cell phone, give thanks to farmers and ranchers. They didn’t invent airplanes, power tools, cell phones or any of the other 21st century technologies we enjoy, but their work made them possible.
“Insight” is a weekly column published by Kansas Farm Bureau, the state’s largest farm organization whose mission is to strengthen agriculture and the lives of Kansans through advocacy, education and service.