California Exported $20 Billion in Food Products in 2016
By Mikenzi Meyers, Associate Editor
It’s no secret that California’s agricultural exports are a huge part of the state’s economy—but to put it in perspective, over $20 billion worth of food and agricultural products were exported in 2016 alone (the latest figures). With numbers like these, people like Glen Roberts of the U.S. Department of Commerce and International Trade Administration are kept busy.
Roberts, who is part of the Global Markets sector and based in Fresno, not only works with what he calls “easy” exports like Mexico and Canada, but other places across the globe, shipping anything and everything from food to machinery.
When it comes to his role in California, Roberts explained, “Our office covers from the top of the Grapevine, Kern County, all the way up to Stanislaus County from San Louis Obispo over to Nevada.”
His sector, which handles more of the commercial side of things, acts as a gateway to other government programs that help out with international trade.
Although Roberts’ main focus is commercial, he’s still one of the go-to guys in agriculture exports.
“What happened when the almond prices dropped? I got the calls because Foreign Ag Service doesn’t handle contractual disputes,” he said.
Roberts further added, “I had to help out our local almond growers because the buyers didn’t want to pay the higher contracted price. They wanted to buy the new lower market price.”
Like many agricultural sectors, almond growers have also been affected by recent tariff wars. However, almond growers have a true friend in the Modesto-based Almond Alliance.
“We are definitely an advocacy organization, that is the core of what we do,” said Elaine Trevino, president of the Almond Alliance.
“The Almond Alliance educates our legislators, their department officials and cabinet about issues that are important to the almond industry. It is very critical that our elected officials, specifically the urban [ones] that are not familiar with agriculture, understand agriculture. They need to understand … the inputs and the natural resources needed for agriculture, and also understand the best practices that we put into place to be good corporate and small businesses,” Trevino said.
“Obviously with almonds, you have hulls and shells and the biomass that comes with almonds, and so we focus on all aspects of that,” she explained.
Almond growers are being affected by tariffs increases into China. Beginning on April 2nd, the first 232 retaliatory tariffs was seen that affected China. Since then, our turkey has also been affected by the tariffs.
The almond industry exports 67 percent of its production to more than 100 countries.
“Looking at export markets and how they impact the industry is critical. Secretary Purdue came out with the mitigation package,” Trevino said.
The almond industry fought very hard to be included in direct payments. While many say it’s just three cents a pound, the allocation to almonds was $63.3 million.
“It’s our intention that the alliance fight for every penny of that goes back to the growers, and if they are not eligible for the direct payments, then we’ll make sure that they receive it through market promotion that will help move their product and hopefully get those prices back up if they haven’t been affected,” Trevino said.
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“The greatest part of the conference was meeting a lot of good people—current customers and new people who handle and trade almonds globally,” said Ricchiuti.“We talked about the economic defaults in the Middle East, India and China and how they have affected current supply and demand.”
Ricchiuti said, “Everyone was questioning the 2 billion pound-subjective estimate for the almond crop,” USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) early forecast about the coming Fall 2016 California almond crop developed after it is set [unripe nuts have emerged, ready to mature].
Many thought the subjective estimate was low—that more of a crop is out there. Some handlers and traders,“fear that if we don’t have a good progress shipment report for this next month, it would be a disadvantage,” he said.
But, having a more positive outlook, Ricchiuti held that the crop is at least that amount and could be more. “It’s a reality but it shouldn’t scare everyone in the marketplace that the price should go down any more. We need to be positive and I think the price can even move up a little more with the shipment reports being positive,” he said.
“We keep positive on shipment reports because everyone’s been buying hand-to-mouth. The warehouses are empty; there’s no one stockpiling almonds, even at the low prices. There’s hesitation in buying, but they’re buying on need and it’s picking up,” noted Ricchiuti.
Ricchiuti stated, “We just need to get these people away from thinking it’s doom and gloom and the sky is falling. It is not; it’s something that is very positive. First of all, there will be plenty of almonds to sell,” he elaborated.
“We had a good shipment month last month and this month looks like it’s going to be good. People are still hungry for almonds; they still want almonds, but pricing is disrupting the market.”
“Even if it’s more than two billion,” Ricchiuti commented, “we think there’s a world market and demand from the consumer for almonds will continue.” He expects they will have less carryover [unsold crop], which will help with diminishing supply. “We feel it’s stabilized now. It has come up somewhat, about 50 cents a pound in the last few weeks.” he said, “so that’s been very positive.”
Ricchiuti explained, “We are looking forward to the objective estimate [in late June to early July] to really hone in where we are, what the May shipment reports will be, and move on from there. We just need to keep a very positive marketing attitude, keep selling almonds and keep selling the consumer on how nutritious and how good they are for you.”
Ricchiuti said conference topics included the immense nutritional value of almonds, how good they are for you and the diversified uses—”more so than any of the other nuts. We need to teach this younger generation to include almonds into their lifestyle. ‘Hey, have a handful of almonds every day.'”