Economic Tidbits

Soybean & Corn Exports Reach Records

Earlier editions of Tidbits focused on U.S. beef trade and cattle imports. This week the focus shifts to corn and soybeans. The two commodities, along with beef, are consistently the top three agricultural exports from Nebraska. Figure 1 tracks the value of U.S. exports of both commodities since 2000. Exports of both commodities set records in 2021 with soybean exports equaling $27.4 billion and corn exports hitting $18.7 billion. Corn exports last year were a whopping 103 percent greater than 2020. Last year’s record exports of corn and soybeans, as well as beef, mean Nebraska agriculture exports most likely hit records last year too. The USDA Economic Research Service will release Nebraska-specific numbers in October.

Exports of corn and soybeans tracked each other closely between 2000-2008. Beginning in 2009, however, soybean exports continued to grow while corn exports largely stalled out, bouncing around $10 billion annually until last year. There could be many reasons for the divergence, global competition, changes in overseas demand, more corn fed to livestock, but passage of the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS) could also have been a factor. Passed by Congress in 2005, and first implemented in 2006, the RFS increased the domestic usage of corn for ethanol production which could have also limited the growth in corn exports. At the same time, though, it also contributed to the growth in exports of corn in other forms like distillers dried grains and ethanol.

Figure 1. U.S. Soybean & Corn Exports (Billion $)

Source: NEFB graphic based on USDA Economic Research Service data

Figures 2 and 3 show the top purchasers of U.S. soybeans and corn exports last year in terms of volume. China continued to hold the top spot as the largest purchaser of U.S. soybeans, importing 27.3 million metric tons, or 52 percent of all U.S. exports. China was followed by Mexico accounting for 9 percent of total exports and the European Union at 8 percent. Projections suggest the volume of soybean exports will be less this marketing year (ends August 30) primarily due to lower purchases by China. The latest projections, released last week, anticipate exports of 56.8 million metric tons compared to 61.5 million metric tons last marketing year.

China was also the largest purchaser of U.S. corn, importing nearly 19 million metric tons, over 2.5 times more than 2020. China accounted for 27 percent of U.S. corn purchases and moved ahead of Japan and Mexico as the largest U.S. corn importer. Mexico and Japan accounted for 24 percent and 17 percent respectively. Like soybeans, corn exports for the current marketing year are projected to be less. The USDA March outlook projected exports of 63.5 metric tons, 2 million metric tons above the February estimate but less than last year. Increased demand in the Middle East and Africa in response to lower exports from Ukraine was the reason for the increase. The USDA also noted higher corn prices could cause importers to seek substitutes.

Figure 2. Top U.S. Soybean Destinations, 2021

Source: NEFB graphic based on USDA Economic Research Service data

Figure 3. Top U.S. Corn Destinations, 2021

Source: NEFB graphic based on USDA Economic Research Service data

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