Economic Tidbits

Exports Slow Out of the Gate in 2023

Buyouts or cancellations by Chinese buyers of several contracts for U.S. corn are the starkest examples of the struggles facing U.S. agricultural exports in 2023. While exports were projected to be lower this year compared to last, market watchers believe the USDA will to have reduce projected exports even further if present trends continue. Through the end of March, the value of U.S. agricultural exports is off two percent while the volume is down 17 percent compared to the same period last year. This comes after a record-breaking year in 2022 with the value of agricultural exports totaling just over $196 billion, besting 2021 by 11 percent.

For Nebraska goods, only exports of soybeans and animal feeds and oil meal experienced growth in the first quarter compared to the same period last year in terms of the value. Figure 1 compares annual percentage changes in the value of various U.S. agricultural exports for 2019-2022 with year-to-date figures for 2023. The value of soybean exports was up 38 percent during the first quarter of 2023, matching 2020’s annual growth, while animal feeds and oil meal exports were up 11 percent. All other commodities saw their export value decline led by corn exports, off 36 percent, followed by hides and skins, off 17 percent. 

Figure 1. Changes in the Value of U.S. Agricultural Exports, 2019-2023 YTD

Source: USDA Economic Research Service

In terms of volume, soybeans and red meats saw growing exports compared to last year while wheat and corn were down. The volume of corn exported was off 43 percent (Figure 2). Like China, buyers in Mexico and Japan, which are other large corn-importing countries, are buying less U.S. corn. Exports of red meats grew because of growing pork exports, up 14 percent in the first quarter compared to last year according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (MEF). The MEF says beef exports were off eight percent in terms of volume and 22 percent in terms of value. The Daily Livestock Report says beef exports to South Korea, China, Canada, and Taiwan are off by double digits to begin the year.

U.S. agricultural exports were expected to be softer in 2023. It is tough to sustain the rates of growth seen in the past two years. High interest rates, a strong dollar, a sluggish global economy, strong competition, and world geopolitics have been headwinds to sustained growth. Look for more tough sledding for exports as the year continues.

Figure 2. Changes in the Volume of U.S. Agricultural Exports, 2021-2023 YTD

Source: USDA Economic Research Service

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