Some of USDA’s international employees were in the United States last month, exchanging information with their stateside counterparts and learning firsthand how U.S. agricultural systems and processes work.
USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) has more than 90 overseas offices covering 154 countries. The agency’s international staff members serve as the eyes, ears, and voice for U.S. agriculture overseas. In addition to Foreign Service officers who serve as agricultural counselors and attaches, FAS currently has 320 locally employed staff (LES). These men and women are native to the region and their insight into local culture, politics and business makes them an invaluable asset to FAS.
Since LES are the backbone of FAS’s overseas presence, it is important to provide them with opportunities to learn more about the inner workings of FAS in Washington. One such opportunity presented itself in September when 25 LES from 23 countries visited headquarters in Washington, D.C. and then took a week-long agricultural tour of Minnesota.
During this tour, they experienced a cross section of U.S. agriculture from farms to agribusinesses. The highlight of the week was a barge tour down the Mississippi River, organized by the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association. The group traveled through the upper and lower St. Anthony locks and dams moving south along the river before disembarking at U.S. Lock and Dam #1. Both the Minnesota State Commissioner of Agriculture Dave Frederickson and Assistant Commissioner Charlie Poster accompanied the group on the barge ride.
Maria Herrera, an agricultural marketing specialist in the FAS office in Santiago, Chile, has been an LES for 19 years, working in a variety of roles. Through her work at FAS, she has had the opportunity to study a full year of marketing at a university in Santiago, which prepared her to more effectively promote U.S. exports and FAS programs. But it was this hands-on training in the United States that truly enhanced her understanding of U.S. agriculture.
“It is important as an agricultural marketing specialist in a foreign market to know more about U.S. agriculture to better promote the products,” said Ms. Herrera. “This trip provided me the opportunity to know more about the products I’m selling. Even though I have been an LES for a long time, there is a lot to learn as the Agency grows and new products enter the market in Latin America.”
Bringing FAS international staff together for this type of training is not only beneficial to the employees who gain insights from their counterparts in other countries, but also to U.S. agriculture as a whole. By experiencing agriculture in America’s heartland, LES can more effectively promote U.S. agriculture in every corner of the world.
USDA recently forecast fiscal year 2011 and 2012 exports will reach a record $137 billion, $22 billion higher than the previous record set in 2008 and $28 billion above 2010. Strong agricultural exports contribute to the positive U.S. trade balance, create jobs, and boost economic growth.