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Idaho ag export value up 11 percent in first quarter

By: Sean Ellis
Published in Blog on  May 19, 2020

Onions are sorted in a southwestern Idaho processing facility. Idaho farm product exports totaled $257 million during the first three months of 2020, an 11 percent increase over the same period in 2019.

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

POCATELLO – The total value of Idaho’s agricultural exports during the first three months of 2020 was up 11 percent compared with the same period in 2019.

The increase is a good sign for the state’s agricultural sector but it probably should come with an asterisk because it likely doesn’t capture the full impact the coronavirus has had on the farming industry.

“The (coronavirus-related) slowdown didn’t start until mid to late March and into early April, so that probably isn’t being reflected yet” in the latest export data, said Idaho Barley Commission Administrator Laura Wilder.

The total value of Idaho farm commodity exports to other nations during the first quarter of the year was $257 million, up 11 percent compared with the same period last year, according to data released by the Idaho State Department of Agriculture.

Even though the brunt of the coronavirus-related impact might show up in the second-quarter numbers, the outbreak response likely did affect the first-quarter data somewhat, ag industry leaders said.

“Idaho might have experienced even stronger export growth during the first quarter if the COVID-19 pandemic had not begun disrupting supply chains in March,” Doug Robison, Idaho president of Northwest Farm Credit Services, told Idaho Farm Bureau Federation in an email.  

During the first quarter of 2020, there was strong demand for Idaho farm commodities from Canada and Mexico as a result of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement being signed into law in early January, Robison said.

Idaho also saw an increase in trade with Japan following the limited trade agreement with that nation signed last fall, which increased the level of ag exports from the United States to Japan, he added.

“The increase in trade with these three countries accounted for more than three quarters of Idaho’s increased agricultural exports during the first quarter of 2020,” Robison said.

According to the data released by ISDA, Idaho ag export value to Canada during the first three months of the year totaled $71 million, up 6 percent.

Idaho ag export value to Mexico totaled $59 million, a 32 percent increase over the same period in 2019, and ag export value to Japan totaled $13 million, a 15 percent increase.

Canada and Mexico ranked as the No. 1 and No. 2 destinations for Idaho ag products during the first quarter and Japan was No. 4.

South Korea ranked No. 3 at $18 million, a 13 percent decrease.

Those export value numbers are based on U.S. Census Bureau data that is available on a quarterly basis. They don’t capture all of the state’s farm exports because they are based on where a product was shipped from and don’t include some Idaho farm products that moved to another state before being sent overseas.

However, the data provides a good glimpse of how Idaho farm product exports are trending and the numbers do track closely with annual USDA data that is released in the fall and does capture all of the state’s farm exports.

The USDA data is more exhaustive while the Census Bureau data is more timely.

The dairy category, which includes cheese, whey, butter and milk powder, ranked as the state’s top ag export by value during the first quarter as $47 million worth of those products were exported to other nations. That was a 17 percent decrease compared with the first quarter of 2019.

However, a separate category that includes high-protein dairy whey that is over 85 percent whey totaled $21 million, a 69 percent increase.

Idaho exported a total of $43 million worth of products included in the “fresh vegetables” category, a 9 percent decrease.

A category that includes mostly malt totaled $36 million, a 40 percent increase. Most of that malt went to Mexico to be used in the beer brewing process.

There was a drop-off in malt exports from Idaho to Mexico due to the coronavirus outbreak because the Mexican government didn’t consider brewing companies as essential businesses and that slowed rail shipments of malt into that nation, Wilder said. Most of that decrease likely wasn’t captured in the first-quarter numbers, she added.

“However, our companies are reporting May orders (of malt) are back up to regular levels for the most part,” she added. “Hopefully, as the situation in Mexico improves, we’ll get back to business as usual with the rail shipments being able to be delivered there.”

Idaho exports of products listed under the “oilseeds, etc.” category totaled $28 million during the first quarter, up 4 percent, and exports included in the “prepared vegetables” category increased 22 percent to $19 million.

Live animal exports rose 70 percent to $15 million during the first quarter. A big shipment of dairy heifers worth $6 million to Vietnam accounted for a large chunk of that total.

Exports from Idaho included in the “cereals” category increased 219 percent to $14 million. Sixty-five percent of the exports in that category were wheat and 30 percent were barley grown for human food or animal feed.

According to the ISDA data, Idaho ag export value increased 6 percent during all of 2019 to $897 million.

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