Unfortunately, the same factors didn't apply to chicken, Georgia's top agricultural commodity. The state produces $3.4 billion worth of chicken and $491 million in eggs annually.
3. Weak economy
The fragile recovery in the U.S. has also helped ag exports. With a relatively low dollar, American crops remained inexpensive, while the Federal Reserve has kept interest rates at record lows, encouraging farmers to invest in equipment and automation, boosting yields.
4. Shift to value-added Products
While the number of farmers has shrunk with the deployment of bigger tractors and combines, the number of jobs in the processing and exporting of agricultural products has grown. That's because U.S. firms are starting to emphasize adding value to their products before sending them overseas, Mr. Hingle said.
As a whole, the U.S. exported about an equal value of consumer-oriented products - like packaged peanuts and orange juice - and bulk commodities like grain sent in giant shipping containers to places like Nigeria, the top buyer of that commodity. But so far this year, the bulk category fell 8 percent while consumer grew by 9 percent.
Regionally, the South exports about twice as much in bulk crops like cotton, peanuts, corn and soybeans as consumer goods, but bulk has fallen 12 percent while consumer has grown 9 percent this year.
Georgia is out ahead of the trends, getting about $1.58 billion in consumer products compared to just $632 million in bulk during 2011. The bulk category actually grew faster through October, up 28 percent. The consumer growth rate was still enviable: 28 percent.
5. Access to resources, markets
One of Mr. Kirk's focus areas over the past few years has been President Obama's National Export Initiative, a government effort to double U.S. exports over five years.
Though the effort faces "headwinds" overall with Europe's funk and China's slowdown, ag is on pace to reach the ambitious goal.
Can the government take the credit?
Many programs to encourage exports of farm goods have existed since the 1950s, Mr. Hingle said. But the NEI shined a spotlight on exporting and encouraged the many government agencies involved in trade to work together.
"It's really brought all that and made sense out of it. It kind of helps define everybody's role," he said.
The U.S. is leading negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade pact including countries on both sides of ocean. There are also nascent talks about beginning work toward a comprehensive trade EU-U.S. free-trade agreement.
FTAs level the playing field, reduce tariffs and provide transparency in overseas markets and a platform to address disputes, said Mr. Hingle, who was upbeat about TPP negotiations.
He also welcomed Russia's recent accession to the World Trade Organization and the decision by Congress to grant the country Permanent Normal Trade Relations, which allowed the U.S. to take advantage of Russia's new rules under the WTO.
"We're thrilled by it. It's a huge step forward for us. We've been trying to get them into the fold for 18 years now," Mr. Hingle said.
Of the other BRIC markets, SUSTA is bullish about China but has soured on India, with its "byzantine web" of tariffs and regulations.
SUSTA is a nonprofit organization that gets most of its operating budget from government grants. For more information on its export-assistance programs, visit www.susta.org.