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North Dakota firms to woo South American, Korea markets

BISMARCK -- Justin Flaten explains the lure of a trade trip to Columbia and Peru succinctly.

"North Dakota is the No. 1 producer of peas and lentils, so it's time to get down there," the young grain company owner from Garrison said Friday.

Both countries have signed trade agreements lifting tariffs on peas and lentils. Together with the weak U.S. dollar, American products are a better deal than ever for foreign buyers. Flaten said 85 percent of the peas and lentils grown in North Dakota are exported.

Flaten's company, JM Grain, is one of five North Dakota firms accompanying Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple and North Dakota Trade Office officials to the two South American countries on a week-long trip starting Tuesday. Three of the companies produce and market peas and lentils.

Dalrymple and the Trade Office also lead a 25-member delegation on a week-long trip to South Korea from March 14-21.

The trips were announced Friday morning.

The companies pay their own way and were self-selected, said Trade Office spokesman Jeff Zent.

The Trade Office, which coordinates the trip, and Dalrymple, give credibility to the delegations, Dalrymple said.

Flaten said his company, started in 2003, directly exports to 12 countries and through the U.S. Department of Agriculture's food programs. This will be his second trip to Colombia and Peru, where peas and lentils are staple sources of protein in people's diets.

In 2006, Colombia imported $28 million worth of peas and lentils, with Canada supplying 97 percent of the commodities. In the same year, Peru imported nearly $20 million worth of peas and lentils, with Canada supplying about 60 percent and the U.S. most of the remaining 40 percent.

Canada is at a disadvantage now because its dollar is worth about 20 percent more than the American dollar, Flaten said.

The other North Dakota companies going to Peru and Colombia are Paulson Premium Seed, Bowman; West Dakota Feed and Seed, Ross; Roll-A-Ramp, West Fargo, and Dakota Growers Pasta, Carrington.

Cloverdale Foods of Mandan is one companies participating in the Korea trip. Scott Russell, chief strategy officer for the company, said Koreans are eating more protein and that is one reason why his company is making another foray into Korea after a two-year lull. The company will sell hot dogs and bacon to Korean companies, shipping pre-packaged products to Korean importers who sell it under their own proprietary brands, Russell said.

Because Korea is the largest supplier of foreign students to the U.S., representatives of three North Dakota colleges--University of North Dakota, Dickinson State University and Jamestown College--are sending representatives.

The other firms on the Korea trip are Dakota Pride Cooperative, Jamestown; the state Mill and Elevator, Grand Forks; Gussias Farm Inc., Carrington; Brushvale Seed Inc., Wahpeton; Sun Opta, Fargo-Moorhead; SB & B Foods Inc., Casselton; Unity Seed, Casselton; J&J Corporation Inc., Fargo; Roll-A-Ramp, West Fargo; Advenio Partners LLC, Fargo; Bismarck-Mandan Development Association, Dakota Growers Pasta, Carrington, and Ideal Aerosmith Inc., East Grand Forks, Minn.

Janell Cole works for Forum Communications Co., which owns The Dickinson Press.