U.S. farm products prized in South Korea

The United States is already South Korea’s top food and agricultural supplier, and that is likely to continue in 2019.

A recent agricultural trade mission to South Korea is expected to generate at least $30 million in new U.S. farm sales over 12 months while giving South Korean buyers the products they covet.

Amy Nguyen, head of Dragonberry Produce, a specialty produce-export company, was on her first trip to South Korea. She said she saw “a fascination and appeal” about fruits and vegetables grown in Oregon. She attributed that to the state’s “fertile soil [and] clean rivers and our sustainable farming practices.”

She joined more than 50 representatives from U.S. agricultural business and farm organizations who participated in hundreds of meetings with potential customers in Seoul in November. They included fruit growers from Washington state, potato farmers from Idaho, dairy farmers from Kansas, date growers from Arizona and clam diggers from Maryland.

“We have a very bright future going forward,” said Ken Isley, a U.S. Department of Agriculture official who led the trip.

A healthy demand

More than 80 percent of South Korea’s population live in urban areas, and available land is largely mountainous and unsuited for commercial farming. As a result, South Korea imports 25 percent of its food.

American farmers and ranchers in 2017 sold $7 billion worth of goods to South Korea, namely beef, corn, fresh fruit and pork, up 11 percent from the previous year.

And U.S. agricultural exports to South Korea continue to rise annually, because of South Korea’s growing economy and expanding middle class who want high-quality and healthy U.S. products.

“The demand for healthy, organic and minimally processed foods continues to increase in the market, as does the demand for a ‘quality and luxury’ supermarket experience,” said Sandi Funk, a food exporter on the trip representing another Oregon company, Bob’s Red Mill Natural Foods.

An updated U.S. free trade agreement with South Korea means that U.S. export opportunities in agricultural and other products are expected to continue to grow. President Trump called the new agreement “an example of friendship and cooperation for trade that rarely you see in this age.”