ANNAPOLIS – Driven by more vigorous salesmanship and new free trade agreements, Maryland’s agricultural exports have increased by about 40 percent since 1993 to last year’s total of $247 million, according to the state Department of Agriculture.
Exports now represent 15 percent of the state’s $1.6 billion agriculture sector, up from 12.5 percent in 1993.
The largest gains came from the poultry industry. Exports totalled $90 million in 1996, federal statistics show, an increase of about 228 percent since 1993. During the same period, overall state poultry production remained constant at about 1.5 billion birds a year.
Overall, Maryland’s gains outperformed the national average during the same period, said Ernest Carter, an agricultural economist for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The value of national agricultural exports climbed during the same period from $46.1 billion to $60.3 billion — about 31 percent.
Leaders in state agriculture say exports are growing in importance.
“The awareness is there from the industry that we have to export,” said Errol Small, who heads Maryland’s agricultural marketing efforts. Previously, local producers’ outlook was “parochial” and didn’t look far past local markets, he said.
The Department of Agriculture “has taken an aggressive approach in our outreach program,” Small said, both educating local producers about international opportunities and attending international trade shows to hawk the state’s farm products.
The state also works with U.S. trade representatives throughout the world to develop new contacts, Small said.
“There is a market for what we produce around the world and each year we doing a better job of meeting this growing demand,” Lewis R. Riley, Maryland secretary of agriculture, said in a news release.
State promotion of local products at foreign trade shows has been “extremely helpful” to the Ellicott City firm of Wilkins- Rogers Inc, said Leon Gleaves, a company marketing executive.
The family-run company, which produces bakery supplies, found a new Canadian buyer for its products after state agricultural officials attended a French trade show.
Perdue Farms, Inc., a major poultry producer on the Delmarva Peninsula, “looks upon exports as an important part of our business,” said Richard Auletta, a company spokesman.
Currently exporting to over 30 countries, the company expects its exports to grow, Auletta said. Citing Perdue’s privately held status, he declined to specify what proportion of its income derives from exports.
Small said the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, better known as GATT, and the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, have made it easier to sell Maryland agriculture products abroad without foreign interference.
But Carter, the federal economist, cautioned that it’s difficult to determine whether Maryland’s rosy statistics are due to exports being shipped in greater volume — indicating an expanding industry — or market price increases. Also, he cautioned that export numbers, especially at the state level, are challenging to compile and therefore should be regarded as estimates. Small, however, expressed confidence in the future. “We are expecting to see even more growth,” he said. -30-