A shipping container shortage sparked by intensified online shopping is the latest complication faced by Washington farmers, who have been battered by difficult trade conditions in recent years. For 2020, exports of Washington-produced agriculture products dropped 5% to $6.7 billion compared to 2019, according to figures finalized by the state Department of Agriculture in May 2021.
This is a side effect of the Covid-19 pandemic, hurting the state’s ability to export its fresh cherries, apples, frozen French fries and other products to the rest of the world.
Still, an additional $10 billion of crops grown elsewhere moved through Washington ports in 2020, pushing the total value to more than $17 billion.
Tricitiesbusinessnews.com quoted Rianne Perry, international marketing manager for the state agriculture department, as saying: “It is better than I expected. A 5% decrease is better than I would have expected. I was a bit surprised.”
She was pleasantly surprised a year ago when the 2019 figures showed a modest gain to about $7 billion as tough trade talks gave way to a series of new trade agreements, including the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, known as the “new” NAFTA, the United States-China Phase One Trade Agreement and a trade agreement with Japan, which eased tariffs and market access for Washington-grown products.
“If Covid hadn’t come along, our trajectory was to increase. There was no reason to decrease. I see it as being completely due to Covid,” she said. This has resulted in a mixed bag for ag exporters. Four of Washington’s top five crops saw declines. Frozen french fries, which are produced chiefly in the Mid-Columbia, fell by more than 11% to $784 million. Apples, the state’s signature crop, fell 13% to $637 million.