By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
POCATELLO – Idaho exported $231 million worth of agricultural products to other nations during the first three months of 2019, an 8 percent increase compared with the same period in 2018.
The 8 percent increase in ag export value during the first quarter is a good sign but it could have been even higher if not for the retaliatory tariffs some of the United States’ main trading partners have imposed on some U.S. farm products, industry leaders said.
For example, while U.S. wheat exports have increased recently they should have increased even more based on global conditions but were held down by trade challenges, said Teton grain farmer Dwight Little, president of the National Barley Growers Association.
“We should have been looking at quite a bit higher price structure for wheat than what we got,” he said.
Wheat is just one example, Little said.
“Those numbers may show an 8 percent increase (in the value of Idaho ag exports) but maybe it should have been 15 to 20 percent” if not for the trade challenges, he said.
Idaho ag export value hit a record $1.02 billion in 2014 but decreased in 2015 and 2016 before rebounding in 2017.
The total value of Idaho exports during 2017 was $829 million, an 11 percent increase over 2016, and the total in 2018 was $850 million, 2 percent more than 2017, according to data provided by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.
Idaho’s total ag export value of $231 million during the first quarter of 2019 was up from $214 million during the first quarter of 2018 but still below the first-quarter total of $300 million during the record year in 2014.
Idaho’s farming industry is heavily dependent on export markets and the retaliatory tariffs have posed challenges for Idaho’s agricultural industry, said Laura Johnson, who manages ISDA’s market development division.
“But fortunately, there are a lot of other markets out there that have helped us,” she said.
During the first quarter, Idaho exported $57 million worth of dairy products, a 14 percent increase over the same period in 2018, and dairy accounted for 24 percent of Idaho’s total ag export value during the first three months of this year.
Idaho Dairymen’s Association Executive Director Rick Naerebout said the increase in Idaho dairy exports is a welcome development but added the number could be much higher if not for the current trade challenges.
Idaho’s dairy operators in the past few years have struggled with low prices below the break-even level in many cases.
“It’s good to see that increase but that number could be even better and that would bring us closer to getting our dairymen … back to making some money again,” he said.
The Gem State also exported $47 million worth of ag products listed under the “edible vegetables” category, a 4 percent increase over 2018. That category includes, in order of highest export value, legumes, fresh potatoes, onions and frozen vegetables not including French fries.
Idaho exported $27 million worth of oilseeds during the first quarter, down 10 percent from 2018, and $26 million worth of ag products listed under the “milling, malt and starch” category, a 31 percent increase compared with the first quarter of last year.
The state exported $16 million of ag products listed under the “prepared vegetable” category, 13 percent more than 2018, and 96 percent of that category was French fries.
Almost $9 million worth of live animals from Idaho were exported during the first quarter of 2019, a 57 percent increase over 2018. Most of those sales were to Canada. That category lists the animals as bovines but doesn’t say whether they were dairy or beef cattle.
According to the ISDA data, Idaho exported $67 million worth of ag products to Canada during the first quarter, 5 percent less than 2018, and that nation was the top destination for Idaho ag exports.
While Idaho oilseed and dairy sales to Canada decreased, fresh potato sales increased significantly, from $613,000 during the first quarter of 2018 to $3.4 million during the same period this year.
Idaho sold $44 million worth of ag products to Mexico during the first quarter, up 29 percent over 2018, and $20 million worth of ag products to South Korea, up 83 percent.
Idaho dairy product sales to South Korea during the first three months of 2018 jumped 80 percent to $17 million.
Total Idaho ag sales to the Netherlands dropped 25 percent to $12 million, increased 11 percent to Japan ($12 million) and decreased 5 percent to China ($11 million).
Idaho dairy product exports to China during the first quarter dropped 25 percent to $5 million.