Consumers in other parts of the world may not know what a place Washington state is.
“When people think of Washington, they know some of our iconic products like Starbucks coffee, or Almond Roca candy, or they might know some of the state’s business and industries like Microsoft or Boeing. But they don’t often think about Washington as an agricultural state,” said Hector Castro, communications director of Washington State Department of Agriculture.
Washington agriculture is the powerhouse industry for the state. It’s the number two industry for Washington, right behind aerospace. Farmers there produce 300 different crops.
“A lot of times, states in the US are known for a particular type of agriculture,” Castro explained. “They are known as a ranching state, or they are known for their wheat fields or corn. But Washington state is not like that. Our farmers can grow a lot of different crops. We export about 30 percent of what we grow.”
In 2016, Washington exported $15 billion worth of food and agricultural products, with $7 billion being Washington origin. Leading products include fresh fruit, meat, dairy products, seafood wheat, vegetables, preserved foods and forage products.
“Within that market China is very important because China is a tremendous market for Washington products, always among top trading partners,” Castro added.
In 2017, China was the state’s No. 3 most valuable trading partner. The state exported between $700 million and $800 million worth of agricultural products to China. Some of that was pass-through products, like wheat.
“China has a large population and projection and continues to grow. So there is tremendous opportunity for agriculture to provide the goods that Chinese customers need. The future looks good. On our side, there is lot of interest to try to enter the China market,” Castro said.
The Department of Agriculture has regular trade missions to China coordinated by its international marketing program. They often host meetings and visits from Chinese businesses interested in their products.
“Seafood shellfish are top exports to China. Hay, particularly Alfalfa hay, and frozen potato products are both among the top exports. You can add to that mix products such as cherries, apples and many others,” he said.
China is consistently one of the US largest export markets. Last fiscal year, US exports of agricultural and related products topped $26 billion.
“Washington was the second top state to export to China in agricultural products in both 2016 and 2017,” said Elisa Daun, trade specialist at the department’s international marketing program.
The Washington state Department of Agriculture has contracted a market partner in China who does research on local markets and brings more buyers to the state.
“We have the geography that allows our farmers to grow such of variety. Our farmers and ranchers are very efficient. They use more technology here to produce a lot. We have great ports on the Pacific Rim from where the trip of containers to China can take less than two weeks,” Castro said.