"We figure about $120 million in export sales were lost," said Joel Nelsen, president of the California Citrus Mutual, which represents about 75 percent of the state's citrus industry. "Fruit was sent to China that was spoiled, and when it arrived it was rotten fruit and the Chinese just shut the door on us. This year the Asian market looks really good so far. Yeah, the dollar is an issue but there's this pent-up demand for our product."
There are still labor issues at the West Coast ports, including a port driver strike last month in Los Angeles and Long Beach, California, but the crippling congestion appears to be gone. Today, the strong dollar and slowing demand for U.S. agricultural exports to China are the bigger concerns. In a downward revision last week, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated U.S. agricultural exports at $125 billion for 2016, about 10 percent below the $139.7 billion in 2015. That would be lowest level in exports since 2010 and much of the decline in value this year compared to 2015 is due to lower prices for grain and feed exports.
However, there is some encouraging news. USDA Chief Economist Robert Johansson told attendees at the agency's Agricultural Outlook Forum last week that "export volumes of wheat, beef, pork and broilers are expected to hold their own and could be slightly higher compared to last year."
Overall, about 20 percent of U.S. agricultural products are sold overseas and about a third of the decline in the forecast this year is due to China.
According to Johansson, U.S. farm exports to China have increased by more than 125 percent over the past 10 years but he looks for exports this year to China "to be roughly equal to those to Mexico at $17.5 billion and behind exports to Canada, which are forecast to be $20.8 billion."