Importance of Agricultural Trade for the U.S.

Trade is very important to production agriculture in the United States. Over the last decade, 2011 to 2020, agricultural exports have accounted for over one-third of U.S. gross farm income, 33.7 percent (USDA ERS and FAS).  U.S. gross farm income ranged from $399.4 billion in 2016 to $470.3 billion in 2014 while U.S. agricultural exports ranged from $137.2 to $154.5 billion in 2015 and 2014 respectively. Total agricultural exports reached a record in 2021 at $177 billion, but gross farm income data for 2021 is not out yet.  Moreover, in terms of volume, U.S agriculture exports over 20 percent of its production.  However, for some commodities that number is considerably higher.  In 2021, 83.6 percent of the U.Ss cotton crop was exported as well as 64.8 percent of U.S. sorghum crop (Table 1).  Soybeans, Wheat, and Rice producers also depend on exports for close to half of their production.  Also, the top five crops in Table 1 are very important crops in the South.

Table 1. U.S. Agricultural Exports as Percentage of Production, 2021

Commodity Percentage of Production Exported
Wheat 48.6%
Corn 16.2%
Source: Production, Supply, and Distribution (PS&D). USDA, ERS

U.S. consumers also benefit from agricultural trade as they have year-round supply of food products that either cannot be produced domestically or are highly seasonal such as fruits and vegetables.  Virtually all limes and bananas consumed in the U.S. are imported and over 95 percent of the coffee consumed is not produced domestically (Table 2).  Orange juice and tomatoes are produced in the U.S. commercially, however, U.S. consumers depend heavily on imports for year- round supply of these products.

Table 2. U.S. Agricultural Imports as a Share of Domestic Consumption, 2021

Commodity Percentage of Consumer Expenditures
Orange Juice 57.8%
Pork 7.0%
Sources: Production, Supply, and Distribution (PS&D). USDA, ERS
Food Availability System, USDA, ERS

Regardless of where the agricultural products are produced, domestically or overseas, all U.S. consumers benefit.  Table 3 shows the ranking of the top 10 countries in terms of lowest to highest percentage of disposable income spent on food at home and does not include eating out. U.S. consumers spend on average 7.1 percent of their disposable income on food which makes it the lowest out of 104 countries where data is available.

Table 3. Percent of Consumer Expenditures Spent on Food Consumed at Home, 2020.

Country/TerritoryShare of Consumer Expenditures
3United Kingdom9.4%
9South Korea11.6%
Sources: ERS, USDA Calculations based on annual household expenditure data from Euromonitor International, Available at HTTP://

Ribera, Luis. “Importance of Agricultural Trade for the U.S.“. Southern Ag Today 2(35.4). August 25, 2022. Permalink