U.S. dairy exporters topped year-earlier levels for the seventh straight month in March, despite disruptions resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) reported.
In March, U.S. suppliers shipped 190,456 tons of milk powders, cheese, whey products, lactose and butterfat, 2% more than the year before. USDEC said this is the highest figure since May 2018. On a solids basis, exports were up 3%. Meanwhile, the value of all exports was the most since August 2014, at $592 million, 10% more than a year ago.
USDEC relayed that Southeast Asia continues to be the main source of growth for U.S. suppliers. Shipments of skim milk powder (SMP), whole milk powder, whey, lactose and cheese were a record-high 49,729 tons in March, up 10%. Export value was just shy of $120 million, up 33% and the best month in more than five years. In the first quarter, the value of U.S. exports to the region were up 54% from a year ago (all first-quarter percentages were adjusted for Leap Day), led by a 40% increase in SMP sales and a 27% gain in cheese volume.
USDEC said the value of exports to South America and the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region also was higher in March, and sales to the Caribbean (led by the Dominican Republic) reached a record high.
In all, exports of nonfat dry milk (NDM) and SMP were 62,346 tons, up 4%. In addition to stronger sales to Indonesia and Malaysia, shipments to the MENA region were the most since July 2014, and suppliers increased sales to Colombia. These gains were partially offset by a 19% drop in volume to Mexico, which saw the lightest volume (on a daily average basis) since January 2018.
U.S. NDM/SMP shipments in the first quarter were 186,360 tons, the most ever for the first quarter.
Whey volumes continued to improve, posting a 7% gain to 44,380 tons -- the highest in 19 months, according to the latest numbers. USDEC said the recovery in sales to China was noteworthy, with shipments reaching 12,793 tons, up 17%. In the first quarter, U.S. whey exports to China were up 21%. In March, shipments to Canada, Japan and New Zealand also were higher, while sales to Mexico were lower.
Higher-protein whey products fared well in the first quarter, with exports of whey protein concentrate up 24% and whey protein isolate up 30%.
Meanwhile, total cheese exports were 33,356 tons in March, the most in 10 months but down 10% from last March’s record volume. USDEC reported that sales to Mexico and Australia were higher than last year, but shipments to South Korea, Japan and the MENA region continued to lag.
Lactose exports were 32,634 tons, down 8% from last year but in line with volumes from the previous five months. Sales to China, Mexico and Southeast Asia trailed year-ago levels.
USDEC also reported that U.S. suppliers posted improved sales of other dairy ingredients.
Shipments of milk protein concentrate totaled 5,550 tons, up 63% and the best month in almost six years. Most of the increase came from North Africa, which accounted for nearly half of the sales.
Whole milk powder exports were more than double year-ago levels, with record sales to South America (mostly Peru).
Exports of food preps (blends) totaled 6,431 tons, up 46% and the most in more than two years, led by record sales to Canada.
USDEC said butterfat sales remain negligible, with first-quarter shipments coming in at just 5,405 tons, down 31% from last year.
U.S. exports were equivalent to 15.1% of U.S. milk solids production in March and 14.9% of first-quarter production, USDEC said.