Economic Tidbits

Exports Fall Back

U.S. agricultural exports through the first three quarters of 2023 have struggled to keep pace with last year’s record-setting pace. Through the end of September, both the value and volume of agricultural exports were off 12 percent compared to the same period last year. And for Nebraska, where the value of exports typically equates to 30 percent of the state’s agricultural receipts, slowing exports mean a slowing farm economy.

Figure 2 compares annual percentage changes in the value of U.S. agricultural exports for 2019-2022 with year-to-date figures for 2023. The animal feeds and oil meal category was the only one showing growth this year compared to last, up 5 percent. The export value of soybeans, one of Nebraska’s leading exports, was off 10 percent through the first three quarters despite being unchanged through the first half of the year. Export values for other commodities important to Nebraska were also down through the first nine months of the year. Corn exports were down 34 percent; wheat, off 29 percent; and red meats, down 7 percent.

FIGURE 2. CHANGES IN THE VALUE OF U.S. AGRICULTURAL EXPORTS, 2019-2023 YTD

Source: USDA Economic Research Service

Only red meats saw greater tonnage exports through the end of September compared to last year, up 1 percent. Pork exports, which climbed 9 percent year-over-year, were the reason. Unfortunately for Nebraska, the top beef exporting state, the volume of beef shipped was off 13 percent. Reduced beef production, a rising value of the dollar relative to importing countries currencies, and competition from other beef producing countries put the crimp on overseas beef sales. One bright spot according to the Meat Export Federation was beef exports to Mexico. Through September, shipments to Mexico grew 15 percent compared to a year ago. Unlike other currencies, the U.S. dollar has lost value against the Mexican peso reducing prices of U.S. beef for Mexican buyers. On the crop side, corn and wheat also saw notable declines in export volumes. Corn exports were down 31 percent and wheat exports down 17 percent. The volume of soybean exports was also down 9 percent. 

FIGURE 3. CHANGES IN THE VOLUME OF U.S. AGRICULTURAL EXPORTS, 2021-2023 YTD

Source: USDA Economic Research Service

Lagging exports point to the U.S. finishing the year with a trade deficit in agricultural goods for the second consecutive year. The trade deficit was nearly $20 billion through the end of September—meaning U.S. imports of agricultural goods outpaced exports by $20 billion. Last year, the deficit for the year was $2.4 billion and was the first time in 63 years the U.S. had a calendar year trade deficit in agricultural goods. And though imports of agricultural goods are off $3 billion this year, exports are down even more, meaning another deficit is in the offing.

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