The 2022 data on U.S. agricultural exports are now available and it looks like another record year. U.S. agricultural exports were $196 billion in 2022, up $20 billion (up 11%) when compared to the previous year. Note that 2021 was also a record year for U.S. agricultural exports ($177 billion). It appears that record sales were more so due to higher commodity prices and global inflation than an increase in real export sales. That is, the U.S. did not necessarily sell more soybeans, grains, meats, or other products to the world, we simply sold the same or even lower volumes at higher prices.
Figure 1 shows both the agricultural export value ($ billion) and volume (million metric tons [MT]), as well as the average export price or unit value ($/MT) for the U.S. Given the broad range of exported products, a total volume measure is clearly a representative equivalent. However, as long as the U.S. Department of Agriculture is consistent every year with how volumes are measured, comparisons over time can reveal what is driving recent export growth. In 2021, U.S. agricultural exports increased from $150 to $177 billion, which was an 18% increase. However, the export volume during this period increased by only 2%: 226 million MT in 2020 to 230 million MT in 2021. Given the larger increase in value, clearly, the record in 2021 was more so due to prices. However, albeit relatively smaller, the volume did increase. In 2022, however, the volume of U.S. agricultural exports (216 million MT) was down by 6%, despite the value being up by 11% to a record level. Note that the average export price or per-unit export value in 2022 ($906/MT) was up 18% when compared to the previous year ($768/MT). Thus, the most recent record is all due to higher prices.
In closing, record export sales in the last two years being more inflationary than representative of real export growth is not necessarily a bad thing and is in fact, quite laudable. Most important, higher values do suggest higher revenues for U.S. producers regardless of the quantities being sold. When taking a longer view, there is another positive takeaway. Note that export volumes significantly decreased with rising prices in past years (e.g., 2010 – 2013), resulting in negligible increases in export values. Whereas in the last two years, export volumes have remained relatively stable despite significantly higher prices.
Figure 1. U.S. Agricultural Exports (Volume, Value, and Unit Value): 2010-2022
US. Department of Agriculture. 2023. Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS). Foreign Agricultural Service, Washington, DC.
Muhammad, Andrew. “U.S. Agricultural Exports Set Another Record in 2022, but Higher Prices Appear to be the Cause.” Southern Ag Today 3(6.4). February 9, 2023. Permalink