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Trade mission to Israel first of its kind

FARGO -- A group of North Dakotans recently returned from a trade mission that was the first of its kind. On North Dakota's first trade mission to Israel, delegates met with Elbit Systems, a Haifa-based technology company that is collaborating wi...

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring (left) and Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley pose with a drone on a recent trade mission to Israel. Elbit Systems, a Haifa-based technology company is collaborating with the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and North Dakota State University to fly the first large-scale, high altitude unmanned aircraft systems. Special to The Forum
North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring (left) and Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley pose with a drone on a recent trade mission to Israel. Elbit Systems, a Haifa-based technology company is collaborating with the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and North Dakota State University to fly the first large-scale, high altitude unmanned aircraft systems. (Special to The Forum)

FARGO -- A group of North Dakotans recently returned from a trade mission that was the first of its kind.

On North Dakota's first trade mission to Israel, delegates met with Elbit Systems, a Haifa-based technology company that is collaborating with the Northern Plains UAS Test Site in Grand Forks and North Dakota State University to fly the first large-scale, high-altitude unmanned aircraft systems at one of six United States UAS test sites.

The Northern Plains UAS Test Site will oversee flying Elbit's Hermes 450 unmanned aircraft. Initial operations will focus on precision agriculture research such as collecting data to monitor and track herbicide-resistant weeds, crop stands, fertilizer needs and diseases, said Lt. Gov. Drew Wrigley, who is chairman of the Northern Plains UAS Test Site and was part of the mission.

"It gives growers the ability to inspect every square foot of their cropland," he said. "We're excited about that."

Testing will start in May and continue throughout the growing season over a significant swath of farmland around Carrington, Wrigley said.

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A large-scale UAS operation at altitudes up to 8,000 feet allows more data to be collected faster without worrying about obstructions like power lines, Wrigley said.

"We expect growers to be getting really excited about the possibility," he said.

Information from the test site will be shared with growers and the Federal Aviation Administration in an effort to allow commercial unmanned aircraft systems to operate simultaneously with manned aircraft in the future, Wrigley said.

In 2013, the Federal Aviation Administration picked North Dakota to operate a national UAS test site. North Dakota's Northern Plains UAS Test Site was the first to be FAA-certified as ready to begin integrating UAS into national airspace, according to the North Dakota Trade Office.

While in Israel, North Dakota companies also met with potential buyers of specialty crop products.

North Dakota companies were well-received, said Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring. By the end of the mission, there were a lot of good prospects that will "hopefully yield good rewards," he said.

Dean Gorder, North Dakota Trade Office executive director, said Israel is interested in lentils, chickpeas and flax.

"Based on the current situation in the world with the high dollar value and exchange rates are not in our favor, the Canadian dollar versus the U.S. dollar is a challenge for us, so each new market we can enter and establish long-term relationships, it will pay benefits down the road," he said. "In a tough market, you have to be out there, you have to be working every lead that you can. If times are tough, you've got to be more aggressive."

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Part of the trip included North Dakota's second trade mission to Egypt.

Goehring met with Essam Fayed, Egypt's minister of agriculture, to advance possible agricultural opportunities between North Dakota and Egypt.

Egyptian consumers are interested in North Dakota's red lentils, flax and fava beans (also known as faba or broad beans), Gorder said. Egypt is the largest importer and consumer of fava beans in the world. Canada is now its major supplier, according to the trade office.

They also talked about seed potatoes, Goehring said.

"I was pleasantly surprised with our reception in Egypt and the opportunities that present themselves for us," he said. "Once we start opening the door, start moving product in, it's amazing how quickly it will continue to cascade and exponentially grow."

The trade mission was organized by the North Dakota Trade Office, North Dakota Department of Agriculture and North Dakota Department of Commerce.

Related Topics: DREW WRIGLEYDOUG GOEHRING
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