Column: U.S. agriculture exports top $200 billion in 2022 as China grabs record share

Soybeans are harvested from a field on Hodgen Farm in Roachdale
Soybeans are harvested from a field on Hodgen Farm in Roachdale, Indiana, U.S. November 8, 2019. REUTERS/Bryan Woolston

NAPERVILLE, Ill., Feb 7 (Reuters) - The United States’ exports of agricultural and related products hit record levels by value in 2022, though higher prices played a big role as volumes across some major items like grain and meat were down on the year.

U.S. farm exports were valued at $213 billion last year, up from the prior high of $192 billion set in 2021. Last year’s total accounted for an above-average 7.1% of all U.S. exports in 2022, which reached a record $3 trillion across goods and services.

China was the top destination for U.S. agricultural products in 2022 at a record 19.2% of the value, led by increased purchases of soybeans, cotton and beef. Canada, Mexico and Japan rounded out the top four at 16%, 14% and 8%, respectively, of the 2022 U.S. export total.

Despite the record value, overall volumes in main product categories were lower on the year. Bulk exports including corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and sorghum totaled 146 million tonnes, down 6% from 2021. Beef, pork, poultry and related product exports of 8.2 million tonnes were down 1% on the year.

Intermediate product exports, including soybean meal, soybean oil and distillers grains fell 4% on the year, though ethanol exports were up 9% to a three-year high.

U.S. exports of corn and soybeans, the top two grossing agricultural items, may fall this year versus last based largely on strong competition from South America. Rocky relations between the United States and China also have that trade flow constantly under question.

U.S. ag exports as a percent of total exports


Global commodity prices have risen in the last couple of years due to increasing economic concerns and inflation, and agriculture prices have been supported by shrinking grain and oilseed supplies. That rally reached a fever pitch a year ago amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, both major agricultural exporters.

The average exported cost of U.S. corn, soybeans and wheat all hit new records in 2022 as a result. Corn at $321 per tonne was up 19% on the year, soybeans at $601 were up 16% and wheat surged 35% to $407 per tonne.

The previous highs were $299 for corn in 2011, soybeans at $568 in 2012 and wheat at $376 in 2008.

U.S. soybean exports in 2022 were up 8% on the year by volume, but corn fell 16% and wheat was down 13%. However, total corn shipments were about 2% above the five-year average.


U.S. agricultural and related exports to China in 2022 reached a record $40.85 billion, up 14% from the prior high set last year. That would have satisfied the 2020 target as outlined in the Phase 1 trade deal signed three years ago under the Trump administration, which called for China’s 2020 U.S. purchases to reach at least $36.5 billion.

China’s 2020 total reached $28.8 billion, padded by the late-year rally that was partially motivated by increased Chinese demand. But the original goal was impossible anyway under the 2020 price levels, and China had no plans to import in excess.

For example, U.S. soybeans were 43% more expensive and U.S. corn 88% more for China to import in 2022 versus 2020. Those two accounted for 57% of U.S. farm exports to China last year.

The Biden administration has been very quiet on Phase 1 since taking office two years ago, so tracking this progress is probably moot for now, but eyes must be kept on U.S.-China trade trends.

By volume, U.S. soybean exports to China in 2022 rose 11% on the year to 30.4 million tonnes, but a year-on-year decline would have been highly likely had top exporter Brazil not experienced severe drought. Brazil is currently collecting its record soybean crop.

U.S. corn exports to China last year were down 14% by volume from 2021’s high, and forward bookings are relatively very light. Brazil also has a hand in this as its corn trade with China opened late last year, and shipments have surged.

U.S. beef exports to China hit a record 244,000 tonnes in 2022, up 28% on the year and worth $2.16 billion, surpassing pork’s $1.36 billion. Pork exports to China fell 26% on the year to 534,000 tonnes, down 46% from the 2020 peak.

U.S. agriculture exports to China

Karen Braun is a market analyst for Reuters. Views expressed above are her own.

Reporting by Karen Braun Editing by Matthew Lewis

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Opinions expressed are those of the author. They do not reflect the views of Reuters News, which, under the Trust Principles, is committed to integrity, independence, and freedom from bias.

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As a columnist for Reuters, Karen focuses on all aspects of the global agriculture markets with a primary focus in grains and oilseeds. Karen comes from a strong science background and has a passion for data, statistics, and charts, and she uses them to add context to whatever hot topic is driving the markets. Karen holds degrees in meteorology and sometimes features that expertise in her columns. Follow her on Twitter @kannbwx for her market insights.