By SEAN ELLIS
Idaho's record for total value of agricultural exports in a calendar year is on pace to be shattered again this year, and dairy sales are leading the way.
The current record of $834.3 million in ag exports, set in 2011, blew away the former record set in 2008 by 22 percent.
Through the end of September, the value of ag exports from Idaho in 2012 totaled $682.9 million, a 15 percent increase over the same period in 2011, according to Idaho State Department of Agriculture data.
"We're definitely on pace to set another record in 2012," said Laura Johnson, who heads the ISDA's market development division. "Fifteen percent growth over a record-setting year is fantastic economic success."
Idaho's increase in ag exports is being driven in part by sales to China, which totaled $70.6 million through the third quarter, a 60 percent increase over 2011. Ag exports to Mexico rose by 29 percent to $114.5 million.
Canada maintained its spot as the top destination for ag products from Idaho with $142.7 million in sales, a 14.9 percent increase over last year. Exports to South Korea jumped 124 percent to $35.7 million and they totaled $14.2 million to Thailand, a 44 percent increase.
The value of Idaho ag exports to Japan decreased 21.5 percent to $50.8 million. ISDA officials pointed out the drop-off follows a spike in ag exports to Japan in 2011 after a tsunami devastated a portion of that country.
Idaho ag exports to Japan through the third quarter are $8 million ahead of the pace in 2010.
Dairy sales continued to lead Idaho's ag exports, increasing 14.8 percent to $221 million.
Dairy exports have been very important to producers in Idaho and around the nation and remain critical for the industry, said Milk Producers of Idaho Executive Director Brent Olmstead.
"The export market is exceptionally important to the dairy industry, both in Idaho and nationwide," he said. "It makes a huge difference."
The U.S. dairy export market slumped from 2007-2009 for several reasons, including transportation costs, China closing off its market and Oceania countries exporting more, Olmstead said.
The value of Idaho dairy exports from January through September has almost doubled since 2010, from $114 million to $221 million in 2012.
"It's building back up," Olmstead said. "The industry has worked very hard to build up the export market (and) the goal for everyone is to keep it as lively as we can."
ISDA Director Celia Gould said some of the credit for the increase in ag exports can be attributed to the department's aggressive export market development program, which includes governor's trade missions, in-bound buying missions and state trade offices in key markets.
But she said most of the credit goes to farmers and agricultural companies in the state.
"Idaho's export success has really been driven by the fact that we have experienced farmers and ranchers ... along with leading edge manufacturers and food processors committed to product quality and innovation," Gould said.