Russian import ban impacts almond growers most

By CaSEY MINTER

Capital Press

Russia's ban on U.S. food imports will not have a large direct impact on West Coast farmers, but could impact prices overseas, experts say.

West Coast growers will see around $160 million worth of exports disappear with Russia’s ban on agricultural products from the United States and other countries. The commodity impacted most: California almonds.

That amounts to about 1 percent of West Coast agricultural exports, industry officials say.

In 2012 Russia was California’s 15th largest agriculture export trading partner, with a total value of $144.7 million, said Steve Lyle, spokesman at the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

“Total California agriculture export value was $18.18 billion, so Russia represents less than 1 percent of that number,” Lyle said.

The top commodities exported to Russia from California last year were almonds at $102.4 million, pistachios at $17.4 million, rice at $5.8 million, prunes at $5.8 million and wine at $5.1 million. In light of Russia’s political problems, some California exporters had already started turning down its business, reducing trade by as much as two-thirds of last year’s level and seeking more business in China and elsewhere, industry representative said.

Exports from Oregon to Russia totaled $5.3 million in farm products last year: $4.3 million of raw agricultural products and $1 million of manufactured agricultural goods. That makes up less than 1 percent of the yearly $3 billion of farm products that Oregon exports worldwide.

In Washington, the effect is larger. Growers sold $23 million worth of last season’s pears and apples to Russia, Mark Powers of the Northwest Horticultural Council told the Yakima Herald-Republic.

Of that, $12 million was 598,000 boxes of apples, Todd Fryhover, president of the Washington Apple Commission, told the Capital Press.

Russian President Vladimir Putin on Thursday announced a one-year ban on imports from the U.S., Canada, European Union, Australia, New Zealand and Norway as retribution against western economic sanctions against Russia for its annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and intervention in Ukraine. Some 60 percent of Russia’s food is imported in urban areas, and officials say they will obtain food from other sources such as South America.

The total impact on world prices for commodities such as dairy is a concern, even for exporters not directly impacted by the Russian ban, U.S. industry officials say.

Overall, the U.S. exported $1.3 billion total in food products to Russia last year, less than 1 percent of total U.S. agriculture exports of $144 billion in 2013. The three largest U.S. exports to Russia were poultry meat and products at $310 million, tree nuts at $172 million and soybeans at $157 million.

The ban is proving to have minimal effects on agricultural industries in Washington, California and Oregon.

“That’s the bottom line, the impact is so small that in the aggregate it won’t have an impact on growers in Oregon,” said Bruce Pokarney, Oregon Department of Agriculture spokesman. “Maybe if there’s one company or one producer that has developed a singular relationship with someone in Russia, this will affect them.”

Beef and dairy food products will not directly be affected by the ban because beef exports to Russia were closed in 2013 and dairy exports stopped in 2010.

Despite this, some effects may be felt. Alan Levitt at the U.S. Dairy Export Council warned that there may be ripple effects from a suddenly flooded world market.

“We don’t ship anything to them, but that’s not to say there won’t be an impact on our market,” Levitt said.

Russia is the world’s second largest dairy importer and their major supplier before the import ban was Europe. European countries will now have to find a new buyer for products that had previously been imported by Russia.

“In a weak world market having all this extra supply on the market will not be helpful,” Levitt said. “There could be a little bit of a disruption in world trade for a while until this European product finds a new home.”

Despite the minimal effects of Putin’s ban, Pokarney and others would rather see a more open marketplace.

“We certainly like to have all options open,” Pokarney said. “Oregon relies on exports, and even though Russia is at this current time not a big customer, we still like to have access to any market.”



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