With trade markets beginning to open back up, 2020 looked like it could be the year prices were able to rebound for the agriculture industry.

But then the coronavirus pandemic hit, upending markets and disrupting trade and commodity prices again took a downward turn.

Mark Rhoda-Reis, bureau director of the Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection’s International Agribusiness Center, said that mix of factors kept Wisconsin agriculture exports in the first quarter of 2020 flat compared to a year ago.

Wisconsin exported more than $800.8 million in agricultural and food products to 132 countries in the first quarter of 2020, an increase of 0.05%, or nearly $367,000 in value compared to the same period last year. Total U.S. agricultural and food exports were valued at nearly $41.2 billion, an increase of 0.6% or $257.2 million compared to the first quarter of 2019. Wisconsin exports of all goods are down $14.3 million, nearly 0.3%, to start 2020.

“Last year, we were expecting fairly strong growth, but things got worse as the year went on,” Rhoda-Reis said. “We’re starting out this year OK, but some of the concern is as we roll into April, May and June, we may see some of the negative impacts we’ve got now.”

The top three U.S. markets, Canada, Mexico and China, are all down to start the year, thanks, Rhoda-Reis said, to the coronavirus outbreak.

However, dairy exports in the first quarter of 2020 were up $9.3 million from the same quarter of 2019 to $67.1 million.

“That’s a positive bit of news,” Rhoda-Reis said. “It’s heartening to see that things, at least year-to-date, are up.”

Export levels of agricultural and food products are higher than expected despite widespread disruption from COVID-19 isolation measures in China, Southeast Asia, Europe and Latin America. Asian markets are beginning to re-open and demand for grains, oil seeds, meat and other agricultural commodities, canned and prepared foods is strong, Rhoda-Reis said.

Wisconsin currently ranks 14th among U.S. states in agricultural exports and ranks first in the export of ginseng roots, prepared/preserved cranberries, raw fur skins and bovine semen.

One bright spot in the top 10 exports markets is Finland, where exports are up 4,500%. That increase is largely due to mink, Rhoda-Reis said. He credited DATCP’s Jennifer Lu for making the link between Wisconsin’s mink industry and buyers in Finland.

“Wisconsin has traditionally been one of the nations largest producers of mink,” Rhoda-Reis said. “Finland jumped nearly $20 million. Since 1996, that’s the largest amount they’ve ever purchased by 20 times.”

Greg Bussler, Wisconsin state statistician with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, said farmers intended to plant 3.9 million acres of corn in 2020, up 100,000 acres from 2019. U.S. corn intended acres are estimated at 97 million, up 8% from last year.

Soybean acres for 2020 in Wisconsin are estimated at 1.95 million, a 200,000 acre increase from 2019.

“If realized, this will be Wisconsin’s fourth largest planted acreage on record,” Bussler said.