Farmers. Do you know your customer? Try this pop quiz

Alberta exported a record $9.7 billion of agri-food products last year — but where did they go?

Farmers are being urged these days to know their customers, so here’s a pop quiz based on the province’s latest agri-food export stats.

1) The U.S. has long been the No. 1 importer of Alberta agri-food products (raw commodities and processed products). What country is No. 2 and did its purchases go up or down in 2014?
2) Which major buyer doubled its purchases in 2014 and what drove the increase?
3) Suds or spuds? In dollar terms, does Alberta export more malt or more processed potatoes?

4) Name the bigger buyer in each of these pairs: Saudi Arabia or Bangladesh? Peru or India? Hong Kong or Turkey?

1) Who is No. 2?

China bought $1.3 billion of Alberta agri-food products last year, with canola accounting for more than half of that. But even though it upped its canola buy to $783 million (an 18 per cent jump), the overall total fell by 12.4 per cent from 2013. Sales of wheat, dried peas, and “other beverages” all suffered major declines, according to provincial data.

Although it’s not likely to come up on “Jeopardy,” the second most valuable Alberta product exported to China is raw hides and skins. It bought $202 million worth of hides last year.

And even though exports to the world’s second-largest economy dipped last year, the trend is strongly upwards — a decade ago, total exports were just $350 million.

2) Who bought twice as much?

For just the second time in the past decade, South Korea’s purchases topped the $200-million mark. The other time was in 2011, when wheat sales surged, only to promptly plunge the next year.

Wheat accounted for a third of last year’s $228 million in sales to South Korea, with pork coming in at No. 2 with $36 million. Beef sales tripled to $23 million but that wasn’t enough for third spot — that honour goes to hides at $27 million.

3) Suds or spuds?

Processed potatoes — a.k.a. french fries — get the nod with $253 million in sales. But malt sales weren’t far behind at $226 million.

The strength of both sectors may surprise those who think Alberta is just cows, canola, and wheat. The combined potato/malt total is $479 million, which is what exports of live cattle were in 2013. However, cattle sales surged by 50 per cent in 2014 to $715 million.

4) Bigger buyer?

Only a dozen countries spent nine figures or more on Alberta farm products last year. Peru (No. 8) and Bangladesh (No. 10) were in that category, while Saudi Arabia (No. 14) and India (No. 40) were not.

But all four are examples of how you never know who might be a buyer. Sales to Peru have quintupled over the last decade and Bangladesh bought just $9.4 million of Alberta farm products 10 years ago.

The latter two are up-and-down customers. Sales to Saudi Arabia went from $168 million in 2009 to $25 million in 2013, and then jumped to $88 million last year. India is all over the map — $5 million in 2005, $85 million in 2006, back to a few million during the 2008-10 period, nearly $60 million in each of the following two years, and then down to $18 million last year.

And Hong Kong or Turkey?

That’s a gimme. Hong Kong was just out of the Top 5 with $192 million in purchases while Turkey just squeaks into the Top 50 list at $11 million.

The full list of who bought the bounty of Alberta agriculture can be downloaded at agriculture.alberta.ca.

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