By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
POCATELLO – The total value of Idaho agricultural exports during the first six months of 2018 remained virtually unchanged compared with the same period in 2017.
Idaho farm product exports totaled $421 million during the January-June period, which was a 0.16 percent decrease from the same period a year ago, according to Idaho State Department of Agriculture data.
The slight drop could be just a matter of one company placing an order for ag products in July vs. June, said Laura Johnson, who manages the ISDA’s marketing division.
The decline, she said, “is insignificant” in terms of the state’s overall ag export picture.
The retaliatory tariffs many of the United States’ main trading partners have imposed on U.S. agricultural products were put in place after June, so “the impact of the tariffs wouldn’t show up in these numbers, yet,” said University of Idaho Agricultural Economist Garth Taylor.
Idaho dairy product exports totaled $101 million during the January-June period, up 11 percent from a year ago, making dairy the state’s main farm product export in terms of total value.
One of the big stories in the January through June export numbers, Taylor said, is that the total value of Idaho dairy product exports has doubled since 2016 despite depressed dairy prices.
During the first half of 2016, Idaho exported $56 million worth of dairy products.
Considering that prices haven’t increased since then, that means the total volume of Idaho dairy exports since 2016 has likely increased significantly, he said.
That would be in line with what is happening nationally.
According to the U.S. Dairy Export Council, U.S. dairy exports through the first six months of 2018 were equal to 16.8 percent of total milk solids produced in this nation during that period.
“That is the highest percentage in history for the first half of the year, topping the 16.4 percent shipped over the first six months of 2014,” USDEC’s Mark O’Keefe wrote on the council’s web site.
“We had the six best months of dairy exports in the history of the U.S. dairy industry,” USDEC President and CEO Tom Vilsack said on CNBC’s Squawk Box, according to O’Keefe.
But Vilsack also said there were serious concerns about whether that trend would continue during the rest of the year, given the uncertainty caused by retaliatory tariffs.
While Idaho’s 2018 dairy export total during the first half of the year is almost double the 2016 amount, it’s still well below the record $210 million recorded during the first half of 2014 when dairy prices were at or near all-time highs.
The recent increase in Idaho dairy product exports is good news for the state’s economy since 5,870 Idaho jobs are created by dairy exports, according to USDEC, which also estimates Idaho dairy exports have a $1.24 billion economic impact in the state.
According to ISDA, $75 million worth of edible vegetables from Idaho were exported during the first half of the year, an 8 percent decline from the same period in 2017.
Exports listed under the “oil seeds, miscellaneous grain, seed, fruit and plants” category totaled $53 million, down 7 percent from 2017.
“Milling, malt and starch” exports declined 12 percent to $39 million and “prepared vegetables, fruit, nuts” exports totaled $29 million, a 5 percent decline.
Idaho live animal exports totaled $12 million, a 59 percent increase over the same period in 2017. Most of those animals were Holstein steers from the dairy industry heading to feedlots in Canada.
Canada remained the top destination for Idaho ag exports, as more than $134 million worth of farm products from this state were sold in that nation during the January-June period, an 8 percent increase over 2017.
Mexico was the state’s No. 2 ag export market at $70 million, a 7 percent decrease, and China was third at $26 million, a 2 percent increase.
A 40 percent, or $7 million, decrease in the total value of Idaho dairy products exported to Mexico during this period was offset by a $10 million increase in Idaho dairy exports to Australia.
The Idaho ag export numbers are based on U.S. Census Bureau data broken down for ISDA by a private company. They don’t tell the entire Idaho ag export story because the exports are tracked by the zip code of the exporter of origin, not necessarily where the products were grown or produced.
For example, a lot of wheat grown in Idaho that is heading to Asia wouldn’t show up in the Idaho numbers because it goes through Portland, Ore.
A different set of data by the USDA’s Economic Research Service is released annually. USDA analyzes the same Census Bureau data but attempts to overcome the issue of other states getting credit for Idaho exports.
The USDA total is higher but it is more than a year behind the data used for this story, which is released quarterly. The USDA data also doesn’t include country of destination or detailed product categories.
According to the most recent USDA Idaho ag export data, Idaho exported $1.87 billion worth of farm products in 2016. The data needed to estimate the 2017 total will be released later this fall.
While the data used for this story doesn’t tell the entire ag export story, it is a strong indicator of the state’s agricultural export trends, Johnson said.