Sask. agricultural exports hit record high

The province’s exports of agricultural products were valued at nearly $17 billion in 2020, up 31 percent from 2019

The value of Saskatchewan’s agricultural exports hit an all-time high in 2020, despite the effects of a global health pandemic that saw the world’s total economy shrink by nearly 4.5 percent.

According to a new report from the Saskatchewan Trade Export Partnership (STEP), the province’s agricultural exports were valued at nearly $17 billion in 2020, up 31 percent from 2019.

Saskatchewan’s other key export products in 2020 included potash, with export sales values at $6 billion (down 7.7 percent from 2019) and crude oil at $5 billion (down 32.3 percent).

All told, agricultural products accounted for more than 55 percent of the province’s overall export business last year, the report added.

Total exports of all commodities — including agricultural and non-agricultural goods — were valued at $30.4 billion last year, up 2.5 percent from 2019.

Saskatchewan was the only Canadian province that saw its export business grow in 2020. On a national basis, Canadian export sales declined by 12.2 percent.

Chris Dekker, chief executive officer for STEP, said Saskatchewan’s export growth in 2020 demonstrates the resilience of the province’s economy and the quality of the goods that are produced.

Regardless of COVID-related restrictions that affected trade, travel and consumer behavior, Saskatchewan’s top export products continued to be in high demand among buyers around the world, he added.

“The world needs what Saskatchewan ships …,” Dekker said in a Feb. 11 interview.

“They need the three Fs, as we like to call them — food, fuel and fertilizer. And as was noted in our (report), the need to feed the world does not pause for pandemic.”

Agriculture has always been a critical part of the province’s export economy but in pandemic-plagued 2020, the importance of the province’s ag sector was more evident.

According to the STEP report, export growth within the province’s agriculture sector included a 15 percent year-over-year increase in wheat exports, a 32 percent increase in durum, a 47 percent increase in export canola sales, a 63 percent increase in pea shipments, and a 96 percent increase in lentil exports.

Saskatchewan’s forest products also fared well, with dimensional lumber exports increasing 29 percent and oriented strand board (OSB) exports increasing 97 percent.

Jeremy Harrison, Saskatchewan’s minister of trade and export development, said the strong export numbers reinforce Saskatchewan’s reputation as a dependable source of safe, high-quality resources, goods and products.

“The global COVID-19 pandemic has hit all economies hard worldwide, but these export numbers are strong signs our province is in a positive position for economic recovery in 2021,” Harrison said in a news release.

Top markets for Saskatchewan exports in 2020 were United States, China, Japan, India and Brazil.

Preliminary year-end data suggests that provincial exports to the United States dropped by more than 18 percent to $13.1 billion, due mostly to the reduction in the value of crude oil.

Export values are a function of sales volume and price.

Exports sales to China were particularly strong in 2020, with overall sales increasing nearly 33 percent year-over-year to more $4.1 billion.

For agricultural commodities, the volume of goods shipped to China increased in 2020 as did the prices paid for those goods.

“China’s economy actually grew in 2020 during the COVID pandemic — one of the few economies in the world to see a GDP increase, so they were with the means to indeed buy what Saskatchewan had to offer and they’ve done just that,” Dekker said.

“Canada-China relations continue to be strained for a number of reasons, but when it comes down to business and when it comes down to making sure that they have what they need to feed their population, trade takes precedence….”

The STEP report also painted a positive picture of Saskatchewan’s export economy going forward. Based on economic forecasts from Canada’s major financial institutions, the province’s gross domestic product is expected to expand by 4.4 percent in 2021.

The Saskatchewan government is working to open three new trade offices in Singapore, Japan and India in 2021 to support increased export diversification.

The new offices will complement an existing trade office in China.

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