USDA’s recent forecast for U.S. agricultural exports for fiscal year (FY) 2013 is a record $145.0 billion, $9.2 billion above FY 2012 exports.  Imports are also forecasted at a record large $115.0 billion in FY 2013, up from FY 2012’s imports of $103.4 billion.  The trade surplus would be $30.0 billion, down from $32.4 billion in FY 2012.

While the total export estimate shows an increase, wide differences are occurring in the details by commodity class.  Horticultural products have the largest growth and account for $3.4 billion of the $9.2 billion increase.  Horticultural product exports were $20.8 billion in FY 2008 and $20.6 billion in FY 2009 and grew rapidly to $28.6 billion in FY 2012 and are expected to be $32.0 billion in FY 2013.

Wheat exports account for another $3.2 billion of the increase in exports going from $8.4 billion in FY 2012 to $11.6 billion in FY 2013, but short of the FY 2008 high of $12.3 billion.  Oil seeds and products account for $2.8 billion of the increase, with soybeans increasing by $2.6 billion, both to record highs, respectively, at $31.4 billion and $22.5 billion.  Sugar and tropical products exports are expected to be up $1.1 billion to $7.3 billion, also a record high.  Rice exports in FY 2013 are up $0.1 billion to $2.1 billion.

Coarse grains exports are expected to be down $0.1 billion dollars in FY 2013 to $11.6 billion, with corn down $0.5 billion to $10.7 billion. Both are well off their FY 2008 highs of $15.8 billion and $14.0 billion, respectively.  Livestock, poultry and dairy were steady at $29.8 billion in both years, a record high.

President Obama set a goal in 2010 of doubling all U.S. exports by 2015 using 2009 as a base year.  Agricultural exports were $96.3 billion in FY 2009.  By that comparison, U.S. agricultural exports in FY 2013 will be up by $48.7 billion, 50.6 percent over the four year or an average growth rate of 12.7 percent per year.  But U.S. exports were down in value and volume in FY 2009 due to the worldwide economic recession.  Exports were $114.9 billion in FY 2008, a record year at that time, and recovered in FY 2010 to $108.6 billion before setting the current record in FY 2011 at $137.4 billion.  Compared to exports of $114.9 billion in FY 2008, exports in FY 2013 will up $30.1 billion in value, a 26.2 per cent increase, an average growth rate of 5.2 percent per year.

Measuring exports by dollar value

Measuring exports by dollar value is a good way of measuring exports across the agricultural industry, but growth in dollar value is produced by a combination of volume and per unit value.  USDA releases as part of the quarterly outlook for trade the volume of exports for some commodities.  Measuring from the high exports of FY 2008, U.S. corn exports in FY 2013 forecasted at 31.0 million metric tons (MMT) would be down 48.8 percent from the 60.6 MMT shipped in FY 2008 compared to a 35.0 percent decline measured against FY 2009 exports.  Wheat export volume is expected to be 31.6 MMT in FY 2013, down 3.8 percent from the 32.8 MMT shipped in FY 2008, but up 40.2 percent from the 22.5 MMT shipped in FY 2009.

Soybeans, meal and oil show a completely different picture.  Exports increased in FY 2009 over FY 2008 and set a record again in FY 2010 at 53.2 MMT.  The projected exports in FY 2013 of 44.3 MMT would be up 9.4 percent from FY 2008 and 1.5 percent from FY 2009, but down 16.8 percent from FY 2010.  Cotton exports of 2.5 MMT in FY 2013 will be down 8.7 percent from FY 2009 and 15.5 percent from FY 2008 and down 17.4 percent from the record of 3.026 MMT set in FY 2011.

The volume of meat exports is similar to soybeans and products with peaks in FY 2010 or FY 2011.  Beef and veal exports for FY 2013 will be up 28.8 percent from FY 2009 and 27.4 percent from FY 2008, but down 12.9 percent from FY 2011.  Export volume of chicken broiler meat in FY 2013 is expected to be up 3.0 percent from FY 2009 and FY 2008 and down 3.0 percent from last year’s record.  Pork is a little different with export volume in FY 2013 estimated to be up 30.3 percent from FY 2009 and 18.1 percent from FY 2008, and even with last year’s record of 1.8 MMT.

The total volume of exports of the major bulk commodities (grains, oilseed, cotton, meat and unmanufactured tobacco) for FY 2013 is estimated to be 108.2 MMT.  That will be 6.1 percent below the FY 2009 level of 115.3 MMT and 22.1 percent below the FY 2008 level of 138.9 MMT.  The recent yearly high was 131.1 MMT in FY 2011.   The largest factor in that decline is the almost 50 percent drop in corn exports from 60.6 MMT in FY 2008 to 31.0 MMT in FY 2013.  With corn excluded the major bulk exports are down from 78.3 MMT in FY 2008 to 77.3 MMT FY 2013.

The per ton value of exports can be calculated by dividing the value of exports by the volume of exports for those commodities where USDA reports both value and volume.  Wheat value per ton exported was roughly the same in FY 2008 and FY 2013 at $370 per metric ton (MT), but much lower in FY 2009 at $265 per MT.  Corn values are nearly 50 percent higher in FY 2013 at $345 per MT compared to $231 per MT in FY 2008 and 77 percent higher than the FY 2009 price of $195 per MT.  Soybean values are about 30 percent higher for FY 2013 at $615 per MT over $472 per MT in FY 2008 and 56 percent higher than the $395 per MT in FY 2009.  Cotton export values are expected to be $1840 per MT in FY 2013, up 14 percent from FY 2008 and 47 percent from FY 2009, but down 37 percent from the high in FY 2011.

The per ton value of beef exports in FY 2013 are expected to be up about 40 percent over FY 2008 and FY 2009, while pork value per ton will be up about 21 percent and chicken broiler meat up 16 percent.

The variation in total value of U.S. agricultural exports has historically been driven by grain and oilseed prices within an overall trend of increasing volumes of exports.  Drought driven crop prices will decline as production returns to normal and meat prices will follow with some lag time.  Export volume growth is much more uncertain.  Return to normal weather should increase available supplies, but market demand, supplies from other producers and U.S. competitiveness will dictate the volume and price of U.S. exports.

Ross Korves is an Economic Policy Analyst with Truth About Trade & Technology (www.truthabouttrade.org).