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Idaho ag export value rose 3 percent in 2020

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

POCATELLO – Despite the myriad logistical challenges posed by COVID-19, Idaho’s agricultural industry is still finding ways to export the farm products it produces to other countries.

The total value of Idaho farm product exports increased 3 percent last year compared with 2019, according to recently released U.S. Census Bureau data.

According to the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, which calculates the data, Idaho businesses sold $927 million worth of agricultural products to other nations in 2020, up from $899 million in 2019.

The government-ordered shutdowns related to COVID have created several hurdles for businesses, including those that export agricultural products.

But people still have to eat and the Census Bureau data shows that Idaho companies are still finding ways to get their products into the hands of consumers around the world.

Mexico, the No. 2 destination for Idaho ag products in 2020 in terms of total value, is an example of how COVID has created significant challenges for Idaho ag product exporters.

Idaho companies sold $200 million worth of farm products in that nation last year, which represents an 8 percent decrease compared with 2019.

When it came to the total value of Idaho exports last year, Mexico saw the largest decline in total dollar volume, said Doug Robison, the Idaho president of Northwest Farm Credit Services.

After increasing 4 percent through mid-year, the total value of Idaho’s ag exports to Mexico fell significantly in the second half of the year and were down by $18 million for the entire year, he said.

“Despite relative strength in the Mexican peso during the latter half of 2020, closures in the hotel and restaurant sectors negatively impacted overall demand for agricultural products from the United States,” Robison said.   

But Idaho ag exporters obviously found other opportunities, especially in Asia.

Idaho’s growth in ag export value last year was largely driven by increased exports to Asia, Robison said.

The value of Idaho ag exports to China, the No. 3 destination for Idaho farm product exports, totaled $73 million in 2020, up 28 percent compared with 2019. Idaho ag exports to Japan, the No. 4 market for Idaho ag exports, totaled $63 million, up 36 percent.

In the case of Vietnam, the value of Idaho ag product exports skyrocketed 677 percent, to $14 million.

“The U.S. trade deal with Japan continues to benefit Idaho’s agricultural exports,” Robison said. And, “China continues to ramp up purchases of agricultural commodities, including corn and other grains, most likely contributing to Idaho’s $25 million increase in cereals exports” last year.

Canada, which purchased $258 million worth of ag exports from Idaho in 2020, a 2 percent increase over 2019, remained the top destination for Idaho agricultural exports.

In a recent column, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said that, according to USDA, the overall outlook for U.S. agricultural exports for the current fiscal year is bright.

“We are nearly halfway through the current fiscal year and the latest USDA trade outlook, released last month, predicts a record $157 billion in U.S. agricultural exports – that‘s a $21 billion increase from the previous fiscal year,” Duvall wrote March 10. “This is some much-needed good news for farmers and ranchers and a hopeful sign of better days ahead.”

The Census Bureau data is released quarterly and is based on what state a commodity is exported from, so it doesn’t capture all of Idaho’s farm product exports. For example, it doesn’t capture the wheat from Idaho that is exported out of Portland.

But it does show trends and from a percentage standpoint, matches closely with USDA data that is released annually. The USDA data captures more of the state’s farm exports but it is not as timely as the Census Bureau data.

Both sets of data show that Idaho’s agricultural exports are on the rise.

The USDA Idaho ag export data for 2020 will be released this fall.