California farmers learn recession lesson
FRESNO, Calif. -- There's something in the air in Tulare at the World Agriculture Expo, the state's largest farm show. It's not the methane emanating from nearby dairy farms. It's not the diesel exhaust from heavy equipment working the fields. It's the sense of optimism among the 100,000 farmers, growers, dairymen and equipment manufacturers gathering for the three-day event. They believe the agriculture economy is on the rebound.
One key area that is giving them hope is the drive to boost farm exports and two seminars were held on exports. One of them is focused on possible trade with Cuba. Dr. C. Parr Rosson, a professor at Texas A&M University, says there is a potential to sell up to $3 billion in agricultural products to Cuba, even though the U.S. has no diplomatic or trade relations with Cuba. Exporting to Cuba would require going around current restrictions.
"Everything you want to do in Cuba is against the law except that there are exemptions for exporting food, and if you're a food company and you want to travel there, and spend U.S. dollars, you can do that," he said.
Don Barton of Gold River Orchards in Oakdale in San Joaquin County says in nine years time, he has seen exports grow from one-third of his walnut production to 90 percent. China is his largest market. The walnuts are put in containers and are shipped through the Port of Oakland, which creates jobs for cargo handlers, stevedores and ship lines.
"We would also look at the Middle East as excellent opportunity for growth. They eat a lot of walnuts, almonds and pistachios in the Middle East," he said.
Barton, along with other farmers and growers said that exports help diversify their markets, especially during an economic downturn. President Barack Obama has set a goal of doubling American exports by 2014.
"We're hopeful that as these additional agreements get done that it will continue to show the way for additional ag exports," Gary Schultz from the California Raisin Marketing Board said.
The export market goes beyond walnuts, raisins and other crops. It can also include equipment. Ed Meyer, who makes the Rodenator for killing burrowing rodents, says he sells 55 percent of his $2,000 devices overseas. The Rodenator uses methane and oxygen to cause an underground explosion to blow up gophers and other pests, essentially vaporizing them without the use of toxic substances.
"About 55 percent of our business is exported," Meyer said.
The Bay Area plays a big role in exports -- $7 billion worth of California crops passed through the Port of OPakland last year.
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