BOISE — Following Idaho’s first trade mission to Russia, state officials and ag industry leaders believe the country of 143 million people presents a significant opportunity for Idaho farm products.
“I think the opportunities there for Idaho ag products are somewhere between big and enormous,” Idaho State Department of Agriculture Director Celia Gould said.
Gould joined Gov. Butch Otter and representatives of several ag commodities and equipment companies on a nine-day trip to Russia, which was rapidly becoming an important destination for Idaho ag products even before the trade mission.
Through the end of September, Russia had purchased $13.75 million worth of Idaho ag products, a significant jump from the $8.7 million total during the same period in 2011.
Russia was the 42nd largest market for Idaho farm products in 2010 but this year ranks 13th.
Live dairy and beef cattle are by far the top Idaho ag products being sold to Russia but Gem State producers are also selling a lot of pulse crops — chickpeas, dry peas and lentils — there and the amount of planting seed heading to Russia is growing rapidly.
“While it’s a new market for us, it’s not a shot in the dark,” Gould said. “We are already doing a lot of business there … and we know we can see some more results there.”
The trade delegation, which returned to Idaho in late November, included a large number of people from Idaho’s potato industry.
Keith Esplin, who represented seed potato growers on the trip, said he initially doubted there was much opportunity to sell seed potatoes to Russia but the trip changed his mind.
“There were a lot more opportunities than we expected,” he said.
Esplin said preliminary estimates of shipping costs show that “we can be competitive on price, too. I’m pretty excited about it.”
Russia has been gobbling up live beef cattle from Idaho and other western states as it tries to build up its beef industry and three Gem State cattle operations were represented on the trip.
Carl Lufkin, co-owner of Leadore Angus Ranch in east Idaho, said there is the potential for a lot more breeding cattle to be sold to Russia.
“They’re trying to rebuild their herds so they’re gong to need a lot of cattle,” said Lufkin, who was part of the trade delegation.
Sales of Idaho pulse crops to Russia have increased steadily the past three years and totaled $1 million through the first three quarters of 2013.
“I think Russia can be an important market for higher-quality pulse products,” said trade mission participant Dean Brocke, co-owner of George F. Brocke and Sons, a pea, lentil and chickpea processor in Kendrick.
Otter is a rancher who sold potato products internationally for J.R. Simplot Co. for three decades and Esplin said the governor’s knowledge of agriculture came in handy. “He has the background in potatoes and cattle so he can speak with authority,” Esplin said. “He just helps open doors.”