Trade is an important component of the U.S. agriculture sector. In fact, the U.S. Department of Agriculture said exports of agricultural goods have averaged nearly $140 billion since 2010, while imports have been close to $100 billion.
The U.S. has had a surplus in agricultural trade every year since 1959, according to USDA, with agricultural products accounting for 10-11% of total U.S. exports in recent years and for about 5% of total imports.
“The result is that agriculture has become a reliable trade surplus sector, but the size of the surplus has varied greatly recently,” USDA said. “U.S. imports generally have tended to rise more smoothly because the United States has a developed, stable economy with a preference for out-of-season goods and high-value items.”
The country’s major exported commodities include soybeans, corn and wheat. USDA pointed out that these crops have trade figures that tend to fluctuate more in response to price changes, because there is little to differentiate between the U.S. and its competitors’ raw goods compared to higher-value processed products.
In 2016, the total value of U.S. agricultural exports was up slightly, by more than $1.8 billion, compared with the previous year. USDA reported that soybean exports -- currently the top commodity exported to the world -- increased 21% in value, or about $4 billion, that year. Overall, the values of grains and feed exports were down 2% as wheat and rice fell, but corn rose by 20%.
“Increases in sales of corn and soybeans are due, in part, to worse-than-expected production years by major competitors such as Brazil,” USDA noted.
For animal product categories, the value of U.S. exports fell for poultry and dairy products, but the value of red meat products rose by almost 4%, or about $450 million. According to USDA, the rise was due to an increase of more than $200 million in variety meats, such as edible offal, and a more than $150 million increase in fresh or frozen pork.