By Sean Ellis
Idaho Farm Bureau Federation
POCATELLO – The total value of Idaho farm product exports last year increased 9 percent compared with the previous year, while U.S. wide, the value of ag exports decreased 2 percent.
According to USDA data released Oct. 26, Idaho exported a total of $2.26 billion worth of agricultural products to other nations in 2019, up from $2.08 billion in 2018.
The 2019 total was the second-highest ag export value ever for Idaho, just behind the record total of $2.29 billion in 2013.
The total value of U.S. agricultural exports last year was $136 billion, down from $139 billion in 2018. The record for U.S. ag exports of $150 billion was set in 2014.
The USDA data shows that after decreasing in 2014 and 2015, Idaho farm export value has now increased for four straight years, from 2016-2019.
Laura Johnson, who manages the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s marketing division, said she was not surprised by the increase in Idaho ag export value last year.
“There was strong economic growth in a lot of key markets around the world last year,” she said.
Idaho farm economists said the reason that Idaho ag export value increased significantly last year while the U.S. total shrunk is that the main type of ag commodities produced in Idaho differs significantly from the main types produced nationwide.
The decrease in U.S. agricultural exports last year was led by corn, with corn exports decreasing by $4.8 billion at the national level, said Doug Robison, the Idaho president of Northwest Farm Credit Services.
Corn accounted for only 1.3 percent of Idaho’s total farm cash receipts last year, compared to 14 percent at the national level, he said.
“The trade war and China’s targeted tariffs on several U.S. crops drove the overall decrease in exports nationally,” Robison said.
“The U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement was also voted on by Congress in 2019 (and) relations and trade with Canada and Mexico strengthened in the lead-up to the vote in late 2019,” he added.
The USMCA deal was important to Idaho because Canada and Mexico are the top two markets for Idaho ag exports.
At the same time, a lot of the main crops grown around the United States such as corn and soybeans were hurt by the China tariffs in 2019. Idaho is not a major player in either crop.
According to USDA, Idaho dairy export value totaled $418 million in 2019, a 9 percent increase over 2018. That made dairy the state’s top agricultural export last year.
Wheat was No. 2 and Idaho’s total wheat export value last year was $348 million, up 18 percent from 2018.
Idaho exports of both fresh and processed vegetables were up 10 percent in 2019 and both those categories include potatoes, as well as peas, lentils, chickpeas and onions.
The total value of Idaho cattle and veal exports last year was $212 million, down slightly from $215 million in 2018.
“The export of wheat, potato and dairy products remaining strong is an important driver for the increase in the total value of Idaho ag exports (last year),” University of Idaho agricultural Economist Rita Du told Idaho Farm Bureau Federation.
Du said that Idaho processed potato exports to Mexico bounced back last year after that nation ended its 20 percent retaliatory tariff on frozen French fries from the U.S.
She also said U.S. and Idaho wheat export growth in 2019 can mainly be explained by reduced competition from some of the United States’ main competitors.
According to an online explanation by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, “In 2019, the value of U.S. wheat exports to the world reached $6.2 billion, up 15 percent from the prior year as a result of reduced competition from Australia, Canada and Russia.”
Du said that dairy export value growth last year was “mainly driven by the worldwide price increase of dairy products.”
According to the USDA report, Idaho’s plant product exports totaled $1.53 billion last year, up 10 percent from $1.39 billion in 2018. Idaho’s livestock product exports totaled $726 million last year, up 5 percent from $689 million in 2018.
The USDA data is released annually and the 2020 ag export report won’t be released until next October.
According to a separate export value report based on U.S. Census Bureau data that is released quarterly, the total value of Idaho’s agricultural exports in 2020 increased by 6 percent during the first six months of the year compared with the same period in 2019.
The USDA annual report captures more export data than the Census Bureau report but the Census Bureau report is more timely because it is released quarterly.
However, both reports do track closely as far as percentage increases or decreases are concerned.