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Idaho farm exports on the rise despite COVID

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

POCATELLO – The total value of Idaho agricultural exports increased 4 percent through the first nine months of the year.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data that became available in early November, $704 million worth of Idaho farm products were sold to other countries through the third quarter of 2020, which ended Sept. 30. 

That’s up from $678 million last year during the same period.

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 most recent USDA ag export report for Idaho was released Oct. 26 and showed Idaho farm product exports increased 9 percent in 2019, to $2.26 billion. 

With the Census Bureau data showing Idaho ag export value up 4 percent so far this year, the state could be on pace to take a shot at its record ag export value total of $2.29 billion that was set in 2013.

The recently released Census Bureau data shows that despite the challenges posed by COVID-19, Idaho’s agricultural industry is still finding a way to sell farm products, said Laura Johnson, manager of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture’s marketing division.

“Food is still important and the industry has been able to make some shifts and respond,” she said. “In some areas, we’ve seen super-strong demand.”

The Census Bureau data shows that that the total value of Idaho ag exports to the state’s main foreign markets, Canada and Mexico, decreased during the first nine months of 2020.

Idaho exported $195 million worth of farm products to Canada through the third quarter of 2020, down 1 percent from the same period in 2019, and the total for Mexico was $141 million, down 7 percent. 

However, ag exports to other important markets for Idaho increased, sometimes substantially.  

Idaho farm exports to China totaled $52 million through the third quarter, a 37 percent increase over 2019.

Johnson said the easing of the trade war between the United States and China played a role in that increase.

“There’s been a lot of progress on that front and it has definitely played a part in the increase of Idaho ag exports to China,” she said.

Idaho farm product exports to South Korea through the third quarter totaled $52 million, up 6 percent from 2019, and they totaled $48 million to Japan, a 37 increase. 

When it came to export value of Idaho farm products by category, the top four categories all experienced decreases compared with the same period in 2019. But there were substantial increases in other categories.

Idaho exported $139 million worth of dairy products through the first nine months of 2020, down 5 percent from 2019.

Exports of products included in the edible vegetables category totaled $108 million in value, down slightly from $109 million in 2019, and exports of products listed under the “milling, malt and starch” category totaled $79 million, down 7 percent from last year. 

The oilseeds category also decreased 6 percent to $72 million.

But the “prepared vegetables, fruit and nuts” category increased 12 percent to $58 million and the sale of live animals increased 21 percent to $41 million. 

The cereals category increased 192 percent to $35 million. Wheat exports accounted for $31 million of that total and most of that – $26 million – went to Mexico.