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U.S. farm exports hit third-highest on record in 2017


WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. agricultural exports totaled $140.5 billion by the end of fiscal year 2017, rising nearly $10.9 billion from the previous year to the third-highest level on record, according to USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue.

“U.S. agriculture depends on trade,” he said last month. “It is great to see an increase in exports, and we hope to open additional markets to build on this success.”

The USDA said the agricultural sector once again posted an annual trade surplus, which reached $21.3 billion, up almost 30 percent from last year’s $16.6 billion. As the United States’ largest export customer, China finished the fiscal year on Sept. 30 with shipments valued at $22 billion, followed closely by Canada at $20.4 billion.

U.S. agricultural exports to Mexico reached $18.6 billion, a 6 percent gain from last year, while exports to Japan grew 12 percent, to $11.8 billion.

The other top 10 markets were European Union countries ($11.6 billion), South Korea ($6.9 billion), Hong Kong ($4 billion), Taiwan ($3.4 billion), Indonesia ($3 billion) and the Philippines ($2.6 billion).

In addition, U.S. bulk commodity exports set a volume record at 159 million metric tons, up 11 percent from FY 2016, while their value rose 16 percent to $51.4 billion, the USDA said, led by soybean exports, which reached a record 60 million metric tons valued at $24 billion.

Exports of corn, wheat and cotton all grew as well, with the value of cotton exports climbing 70 percent to $5.9 billion, wheat exports up 21 percent to $6.2 billion and corn exports up 6 percent, to $9.7 billion.

According to the USDA’s World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report released Nov. 9, U.S. corn production is on track to set another record, with 2017/18 forecasts indicating both record production and yields. Despite increased production and ending stocks forecasts, the report said prices are expected to remain in the same range because of increased demand from feed and export markets.

“America’s corn farmers continue to face challenging economic conditions, highlighting the incredible importance of growing and supporting markets for the crop we produce so well,” said National Corn Growers Assoc. (NCGA) President Kevin Skunes, an Arthur, N.D., farmer.

Among other products with significant export increases was U.S. dairy, which grew 17 percent to $5.3 billion. Beef exports were up 16 percent to $7.1 billion, with pork exports reaching 14 percent to $6.4 billion.

The USDA said horticultural product exports increased 3 percent to nearly $33.9 billion, largely driven by an 8 percent increase in exports of tree nuts, which reached $8.1 billion, the second-highest total on record. Processed food and beverage exports rose 2 percent to $39.2 billion.

According to the USDA, exports are responsible for 20 percent of farm income, driving rural economic activity and supporting more than 1 million American jobs both on and off the farm. Perdue said the agency continues to work to boost export opportunities for U.S. agricultural products by opening new markets, pursuing new trade agreements, enforcing existing agreements and breaking down barriers to trade.

“I’m a grow-it-and-sell-it kind of guy,” he said. “If American agricultural producers keep growing it, the USDA will keep helping to sell it around the world.”

Skunes said the USDA’s latest export numbers emphasize the importance of trade to America’s corn farmers and rural communities. “These numbers further underscore the value of exports to the U.S. economy. Last marketing year, we exported 13.3 million metric tons of corn to Mexico, worth $2.5 billion.

“As farmers continue to produce more, we need to work to increase demand with our current trade partners and aggressively pursue new trade agreements to develop new markets.”

Ken Maschhoff, president of the National Pork Producers Council and Carlyle, Ill., producer, said it’s no surprise agricultural exports reached their third-highest level over the past year.

“America produces the globe’s safest food at the lowest cost,” he said. “That’s certainly true of the U.S. pork industry, the world’s No. 1 exporter of pork. And, very importantly, our exports have grown tremendously over the past 25 years or so because of free trade agreements such as NAFTA. The U.S. needs more free trade deals.”

Kent Bacus, National Cattlemen’s Beef Assoc. (NCBA) director of international trade, said, “The growth in U.S. beef exports in 2017 is great news for producers and is something celebrated by all segments of the beef industry.” However, he noted the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) would have reduced market access barriers in key economies like Japan, where frozen beef exports are currently subject to a 50 percent tariff.

“With competitors like Australia and New Zealand actively seeking trade deals around the world, the U.S. must move quickly to prioritize bilateral trade negotiations with key exports markets or risk losing our hard-won gains,” he added.

“Our experience with agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement shows that U.S. beef exports thrive when long-term market access solutions are in place.”