U.S. exports of corn and soybeans were literally off the charts in the first quarter of this year compared to last year. The value of corn exports was up a whopping 141 percent while the value of soybean exports was up an eye-popping 116 percent. Figure 1 compares the yearly percentage changes in U.S. export values in 2019 (blue), 2020 (red), and the first quarter of 2021 (grey) for a few of Nebraska’s top export commodities. Animal feeds and wheat also showed strong gains in the first quarter of 2021 compared to last year, up 22 percent and 14 percent respectively.
Red meats (beef, pork, and lamb) were also up 3 percent, but hides and skins were off 10 percent. The value of total U.S. agricultural exports in the first quarter was up 31 percent compared to last year, led by corn and soybeans.
Figure 1. Percentage Changes in Export Values: 2019, 2020, YTD 2021
The USDA expects U.S. corn and soybean exports to finish this fiscal year (ends September 30) at record levels. U.S. corn exports have benefitted from robust demand in Asia, particularly China, North Africa, and the Middle East. Competitive U.S. prices and supply concerns in other exporting countries have also helped. Surging Chinese demand has driven the growth in soybean exports.
The U.S. Meat Export Federation (MEF) reports the value of first quarter beef exports was up 3 percent. March beef exports exceeded $800 million for the first time, at $802 million, up 14 percent compared to last year. Beef exports accounted for 14 percent of U.S. beef production in the first quarter. Increased trade with South Korea, China, and Central America led the export growth. Most noticeably, first quarter purchases by China exceeded last year’s pace by 1,500 percent. The U.S. now accounts for over 3 percent of Chinese imports compared to 1 percent last year. On the other hand, beef exports to Japan and Mexico were off compared to last year.
The value of pork exports in the first quarter was down 7 percent compared to last year. Exports to Mexico, Japan, Central American, and Philippines are higher, but not enough to offset a decline in exports to China, off 20 percent. Fewer exports to China was to be expected as it continues to rebuild its hog herd despite continued problems with African Swine Fever.
The USDA increased its May forecast for U.S. agricultural exports this fiscal year by $7.0 billion over its February forecast. The increase was due to continued strong exports of corn, soybean, and livestock products driven by strong demand and favorable competitive conditions. Good news for Nebraska producers as exports generally equal roughly 30 percent of total agricultural receipts.