Ag processing is a huge industry within Ninth District

Edward Lotterman | Agricultural Economist

Published January 1, 1993  | January 1993 issue

The value of sales by the food processing industry located in the Ninth District states of Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wisconsin was over $30 billion in 1990. The 107,000 district food or feed manufacturing workers bring home paychecks totaling over $3.5 billion per year. When workers handling such non-food products as ethanol, industrial animal and vegetable fats, wool and leather are added, the numbers are greater.

Importance varies from state to state

While agricultural processing in the Ninth District is a large economic sector, its importance varies considerably from state to state within the industry. In absolute terms it is much larger in Wisconsin and Minnesota than in the Dakotas or Montana. The 40,000 food manufacturing workers in Minnesota are three times as numerous as those in North Dakota, South Dakota and Montana combined. And the dollar amount of value-added in Minnesota is five times as great as the total for its three neighbors to the west.

But in relative terms, ag processing is of far greater importance in the less-populous western states. In Wisconsin and Minnesota only one manufacturing worker in 10 is employed by a food processor. For Montana that figure is one in nine, for North Dakota one in five and for South Dakota one in four.

This reflects Minnesota's and Wisconsin's higher populations, larger cities and much more diverse manufacturing bases. Montana has only 184 manufacturing establishments of all types that employ more than 20 people, North Dakota has 139 and South Dakota, 231. In comparison, Wisconsin has nearly 3,500 and Minnesota over 2,400 such plants.

Also, manufacturing as a whole is relatively less important in the three western states, while natural resource-related activities such as farming, ranching, mining, forestry and tourism continue to be of primary importance. Some officials in these states argue that growth of their food processing sectors is desirable since it is a sector with stable demand and employment in comparison to more volatile natural resource industries.