U.S. agriculture sold agricultural goods worth $177 billion overseas in 2021, shattering the previous 2014 record by almost 15 percent and 18 percent more than 2020. The U.S. ended 2021 with a trade surplus in agricultural goods of $6.5 billion, the largest since 2018 when it equaled $6.7 billion. Agriculture is one of a few U.S. sectors which consistently runs a trade surplus with the rest of the world.
Chinese purchases, increased global demand, tight worldwide stocks, and favorable competitive conditions helped U.S. exports reach record levels last year. China, the top importer of U.S. agricultural goods, purchased $33 billion, up 25 percent from 2020. China accounted for 19 percent of farm exports, up from 16 percent in 2015. Mexico was the second-biggest U.S. market with exports to the country jumping 39 percent last year to $25.5 billion, also a record. The top four markets, China, Mexico, Canada, and Japan, accounted for 55 percent of exports last year.
While Nebraska specific export numbers for 2021 will not be released until October, there’s little doubt Nebraska agricultural exports were record setting too. Figure 1 shows the annual percentage changes in U.S. exports of top Nebraska agricultural products for 2019-2021. Every product, except soybeans, experienced growth last year of at least 15 percent. Corn exports led the way, up an astronomical 103 percent, equaling $18.7 billion. Soybean exports were $27.4 billion, up 7 percent. Livestock products saw double-digit increases with exports of hides and skins up 44 percent and red meats (beef, pork, and lamb) up 22 percent. In fact, the U.S. Meat Export Federation reports beef export sales last year exceeded $10 billion for the first time and pork exports also set a record, topping $8 billion in value.
Exports were definitely a positive for Nebraska agriculture last year. All of Nebraska’s key export commodities saw improved overseas markets. Growing exports helped lift prices higher to benefit Nebraska producers. Producers need this to continue this year to offset the higher input costs.
Figure 1. Annual Changes in U.S. Agricultural Exports, 2019-2021