North Carolina Agriculture Commissioner Steve Troxler will lead a group of cotton, peanut, soybean, tobacco and wheat representatives on a trade mission to Beijing March 6-11.

The mission comes as the U.S. Department of Agriculture recently forecast 2011 to be a record year for exports, with projected growth of 25 percent above 2010 figures. China will soon be North Carolina’s largest market for U.S. agricultural exports in the world. In 2010 alone, China purchased more than $542 million worth of North Carolina ag products, up from $271 million in 2008.

“The Chinese market is among the fastest-growing in the world, and our farmers produce many commodities that the Chinese are looking to buy. This is an excellent opportunity for North Carolina growers to gain new contracts in a marketplace with tremendous potential for growth,” Troxler said. “Our commodities are extremely competitive, and we need to continue to build on relationships we have developed to grow sales.”

Troxler said this mission and other international trade efforts represent an investment in North Carolina’s leading industry — agriculture — and it is an investment that helps support small farming businesses and jobs across rural North Carolina.

Troxler and industry officials will meet with existing and potential buyers from China’s tobacco, soybean, wheat, peanut and cotton industries. In addition, Troxler will officially open a North Carolina trade office in Beijing, which is expected to service existing business accounts and develop new leads for agricultural commodities.

After Troxler’s 2009 trade mission, China Tobacco — the country’s main tobacco buying group — contracted to purchase more than 50 million pounds of North Carolina tobacco.

Joining Troxler in the 30-person delegation will be representatives from the North Carolina Agribusiness Council Inc., Burley Stabilization Corp., Carolinas Cotton Cooperative, North Carolina Cotton Producers Association, Golden Grove Candy, North Carolina Small Grain Growers Association, North Carolina Soybean Producers Association, North Carolina State University, Tobacco Associates, Tobacco Growers Association of North Carolina, U.S. Tobacco Cooperative, Universal Leaf and White Hat Seed Farm. These travelers will cover their own expenses.

International marketing staff will continue a second leg of the trip through March 16, with stops in Guangzhou, Hong Kong and Vietnam.

A grant from the Tobacco Trust Fund will cover some of the transportation and other expenses of the trade mission.