Europeans could end up buying more of Nebraska's beef under a series of agreements signed during a state-sponsored trade mission earlier this year, officials said Thursday.
Department of Agriculture Director Greg Ibach said officials are working to build Nebraska's beef brand in the European Union and ease the concerns many of its member countries have about meat imported from the United States. Unlike other states, he said, Nebraska officials have worked to explain how the state's beef is produced and introduce foreign companies to some of its agricultural leaders.
Ibach said the trade mission's delegation secured six agreements with European companies that expressed interest in buying and promoting Nebraska's beef. The companies include restaurant chains and grocery stores doing business in England, Germany, Italy, Sweden and the Netherlands.
"We want to make sure that our feedlots stay full, our packing plants stay full, and we keep people employed here in Nebraska," Ibach said at a news conference with Gov. Pete Ricketts.
Ricketts said expanding the state's exports is especially important given the recent downturn in commodity prices. He said state officials are working on a certification program for beef produced entirely in Nebraska, with a stamp on packaging to set the state's beef apart.
"Our agricultural industry represents a great opportunity for us to continue to grow the good life here in Nebraska," he said.
When the Department of Agriculture and the Nebraska Beef Council started promoting beef in 2005, the state accounted for less than 4 percent of all U.S. beef exports. In the first six months of this year, Nebraska accounts for more than 18 percent, according to the department. Nebraska is the nation's largest beef producer.
The delegation included University of Nebraska experts, ranchers and a meatpacking executive. Its members visited England, Germany, France and Spain.
Ricketts is set to lead another trade mission to Hong Kong, China and Macau starting Nov. 9. He will meet with Asian agricultural and business leaders to expand on Nebraska's existing trade relationships in those countries.