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State ag exports gain despite problems

Despite the strong dollar, the cost-price squeeze, and bad weather during 1999, California agricultural exports for calendar year 2000 rose $564 million to reach $6.6 billion, about the same level as 1998.

Economists at the Agricultural Issues Center (AIC) at the University of California, Davis, say the 9 percent recovery for 2000 was helped by increased prices of some of the highest value export commodities, but there's more to the story.

For a recent brief, AIC director Daniel A. Sumner and researchers Nicolai V. Kuminoff and Jose E. Bervejillo collaborated, for the fourth year, with the California Department of Food and Agriculture in compiling more accurate statistics for the state's farm exports.

In short, instead of using data from ports or taking the state's share of national exports, they devised, with the help of the respective industries, separate procedures for each of the 50 top ag commodities.

Better estimates

Industry input, the AIC team said, “allowed us to improve our estimating procedures for several commodities, especially milk and cream, beef and beef products, bell peppers, potatoes, hay, walnuts, asparagus, and dry beans.”

They even found some errors in U.S. government export figures.

Of the top 50 commodities, they said, about half increased in export value from 1999, half increased in quantity, and half had higher prices. But for some crops, such as almonds and cotton, 2000 was the third straight year of falling prices.

Of the top 20 export commodities, ranked by value, 17 went abroad in higher quantities in 2000. Nevertheless, lower prices of some, such as processed tomatoes and rice, more than offset increased quantities, creating a lower export value.

Cotton and oranges exports contributed most to the increased aggregate export value. Cotton exports (1999-crop bales shipped in 2000), at $616.2 million, were up nearly 40 percent. Value of oranges, recovering from the 1999 freeze, doubled to $284.6 million.

In other highlights of 2000 exports, value of fruits, tree nuts, and vegetables was $3.9 billion, or about 59 percent of the state's ag exports.

The state once again sent abroad more than $1 billion in grapes and grape products. (The AIC team reached that amount by converting raisins, wine, and juice to fresh grape equivalents and adding them to fresh grape exports.)

Exports of fresh market tomatoes hit $115.3 million, more than doubled due to a combination of higher prices and a flush of shipments brought on by an extended export season.

Beef and beef products, broccoli, celery, eggs, and turkey gained in value by more than 20 percent, while raisins, cherries, grapefruit, apples, kiwi, avocados, wheat, and artichokes fell by more than 20 percent.

Among destinations for the exported products, East Asia claimed 39 percent of the total value and the largest shares of fruit, field crop, and animal products.

East Asia destinations claimed 39 percent of the total value and took the largest shares of fruit, field crops, and animal products. North America got most of the vegetable exports, and most of the tree nuts went to Europe.

The best customers, as in previous years, were Canada and Japan, each buying more than $1 billion in products and when combined accounting for about 42 percent of the California export volume.

The Canadian market took more than half of the lettuce, strawberries, fresh tomatoes, carrots, celery, and other vegetables and fruit.

Some destinations had favorites, such as Canada receiving 97 percent of the bell pepper exports and Japan receiving 77 percent of the exported hay. Tree nuts, on the other hand, dispersed to several destinations.

The AIC report also revealed ratios of farm quantity exported to farm quantity produced for 2000, including cotton at 78 percent, almonds 71 percent, walnuts 46 percent, prunes 40 percent, and rice 32 percent.

According to the AIC economists, export data from USDA's Economic Research Service (ERS), the Department of Commerce, and the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC) is now much more accessible than when the AIC reports began four years ago.

Cumbersome books with tiny type have given way to online, searchable databases readily available and free to the public. Those interested in tracking international trade in ag products can reach the ERS database at and the USITC database at

“By making it easier to collect export data,” says the brief, “the online trade databases have allowed us to dedicate more resources to improving our commodity-specific methods of estimating exports.”

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