FARGO, North Dakota (AP) — Howard Dahl is this month making his 50th trip to the former Soviet Union since its breakup in 1991 to pitch his farm machinery.
The daylong flights from North Dakota, the language, political and economic barriers have all been worth it, said Dahl, president of Amity Technology LLC, billed as the world's largest manufacturer of sugar beet harvesting equipment.
''It's the best decision we've ever made,'' he said from his factory in Fargo.
Since the breakup of the Soviet Union, Dahl's business has had more than $150 million in sales to Kazakhstan, Russia, Ukraine and Azerbaijan, including $50 million in the last two years, he said.
The appetite for American farm machinery products is on the rise.
Russia imported $281 million (euro191 million) in American farm machinery products through June 2007, a 112 percent increase from the previous year, according to the Association of Equipment Manufacturers, a West Allis, Wisconsin-based machinery trade group.
Ukraine had $142 million (euro97 million) in American-made machinery purchases through the first half of 2007, a 113 percent increase over the previous year, the group said.
The North Dakota Trade Office said state farm machinery exports to Kazakhstan, Russia and Ukraine have risen from US$1.2 million in 2001 to US$81 million in 2006. Sales for the first nine months of 2007 totaled US$98.9 million (euro67 million), the trade office said.
''In the last four years, we've grown 30 percent a year, due largely to the market there,'' Dahl said, adding that half the 270 jobs at his three North Dakota factories depend on the sales to the former Soviet Union states.
Dahl, 58, was among the first U.S. businessmen to test the market after the Soviet downfall. His goals were to bolster international relations, make money for his company and help farmers, one big red beet harvesting machine at a time.
Others have since joined in.
John Miller, president of Miller-St. Nazianz Inc., which builds self-propelled sprayers, said his company began selling machinery in eastern Europe a little more than a year ago.
The St. Nazianz, Wisconsin-based company has sold about 20 of the $150,000 (euro102,000) sprayers in former Soviet states, and has orders for about a dozen more so far this year, he said. The initial sales came at a time when sales where slumping domestically, said Miller, whose company has about 170 workers.