Can small be large?


040115-lindablogthumbBY LINDA BAKER

Leaders in Oregon’s ag sector gathered this morning in Portland’s Coopers Hall winery/taproom to discuss the role of the region as an export gateway, impediments to exporting products and solutions to containerized shipping challenges.

Share this article!

 

050115 year of trade talk lindaBY LINDA BAKER

Leaders in Oregon’s ag sector gathered this morning in Portland’s Coopers Hall winery/taproom to discuss the role of the region as an export gateway, impediments to exporting products and solutions to containerized shipping challenges.

Much of the conversation focused on industry growth. About 80% of Oregon ag products are exported out of state, half to other countries. Millions of newly minted middle class eaters in China, SE Asia and other emerging nations are boosting demand for Oregon products.

“As people get richer, the first thing they want to do is eat more meat and try new food,” said panelist Steve Wirsching, VP and director of U.S. Wheat Associates West Coast Office.

That dynamic explains why the Vietnamese now crave Oregon blueberries and why Bob’s Red Mill, according to panelist Jan Chernus, the company’s International Sales VP, is exploring new markets in Africa.

There’s a cloud in the silver lining; Oregon products may have hit the big time. But our Port is decidedly small time, with recent labor standoffs and the departure of Hanjin adding to the Port’s longstanding geographical limitations. Bob’s Red Mill moves most of its product through California, Chernus said.

Panelists were stumped when moderator Ron Paul, director of the James Beard public market, asked about solutions to our niche port status — except to say the state needs to be creative and nimble. Degens said he expected labor issues to be resolved in West Coast ports by summer. Hanjin is still operating in Portland, shuttling products by truck to other west coast ports.

Passing the controversial Trans Pacific Trade Partnership free trade agreement will help level the playing field, panelists said.

Tom Danowski, executive director of Oregon Wine Board, was something of an outlier on the panel. The Oregon wine industry is still very small — only 1% of the market — and the industry is still working to grow demand abroad. “We’re a region of discovery,” Danowski said. “When you’re small, you call yourself a region of discovery.”

Degens didn’t miss a beat.  “The Port of Portland is a region of discovery,” he said. “We represent less than 1% of US container service.”

None of the panelists mentioned the environmental impacts of global agriculture exports and the rise in meat consumption. Oregon Department of Agriculture chief Katy Coba said the state’s snow pack is at 9% of normal, so Oregon will have to figure out better ways of storing water.

I would have been interested in hearing  Amanda Oborne, Ecotrust Food and Farms vice president, talk about growing mid size food processors in Oregon and keeping more agriculture exports in state.

The agriculture panel was the second in a series of Port-hosted events as part of the “Year of Trade in Oregon,” a campaign led by the Port and the Pacific Northwest International Trade Association (PNITA) – a program of the Portland Business Alliance – and other partners.

Kudos to the organizers for holding a breakfast panel discussion series about Oregon food products in an urban winery. An inspired choice of venue.

 

 

 

 




Latest from Oregon Business Team