Russia's food ban will hurt Idaho farmers

BOISE -- On Thursday, Russia banned most food imports from the West in retaliation for sanctions over Ukraine. It's a sweeping move that will cost western farmers, including many in Idaho, billions of dollars. The ban covers all imports of meat, fish, milk and milk products and fruit and vegetables from the United States, for one year.

The University of Idaho estimates that 20 percent of this state's economic output is through agriculture. So, when agriculture is affected, all Idahoans are affected. And this ban is going to affect Idaho agriculture, considering Idaho exports millions of dollars in food to Russia every year.

"Anytime you see agricultural products used as a weapon in policy, by places like in Russia, you are going to feel an impact," said Laura Johnson, Bureau Chief with Market Development at the Idaho Department of Agriculture.

Johnson adds that Russia's ban on certain food from the West is good news-bad news for Idaho. The good news is that the ban doesn't include live animals, which is a huge part of Idaho's exports to Russia, thanks in part to trade missions like the one just last fall. "Last year, Russia was our 14th-largest agricultural export market, and 90% of our exports were live animals, both beef and dairy heifers" she said.

That's the good news. The bad news is the sanctions do include pulses, or peas, lentils, and legumes.

"We sold over $1 million of legumes into that market last year," said Johnson. "So, we certainly will see some impact, no doubt."

So, those farmers will have to work harder to find other buyers elsewhere, and Johnson says their troubles might not end when the ban ends in one year. "It's really difficult when you lose a customer and they have to find product elsewhere. If the market re-opens in a year, it can be really difficult to get those customers back when they're now buying from somebody else," she said.

Also, other Idaho farmers who don't even deal with Russia could now see a more crowded market for their products. "But there could be a ripple effect. When other countries lose that market, then they may become increased competition to us in other foreign markets," Johnson said.

Johnson says Idaho Agriculture has seen three straight record years of exports. That could end thanks to this ban.

KTVB also talked to an Idaho businessman who was on that trade mission last year and was going to possibly start doing business in Russia. But, as soon as the violence in Ukraine started earlier this year, he decided to look to Asian markets instead. He says Russia is just too unstable.


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