U.S. exports of grain in all forms (GIAF) reached nearly 101 million metric tons -- equivalent to 3.97 billion bu. -- by the end of the 2019-20 marketing year, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and an analysis by the U.S. Grains Council (USGC). While the export total declined 5% year over year, GIAF exports still represented the fifth-highest year on record.
Tracking GIAF exports provides a more holistic view of the feed grains produced by U.S. farmers and consumed by overseas customers than sales of one grain product alone. To do so, USGC reviews exports across 10 product sectors, including raw grain exports of U.S. corn, barley and sorghum and value-added products like ethanol, dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS) and other co-products as well as the corn equivalent of exported meat products.
“There is no other way to frame it: The last marketing year was extremely difficult,” USGC president and chief executive officer Ryan LeGrand said. “Our corn crop faced serious problems during planting, the growing season and harvest, but the resiliency and forward-looking approach of the U.S. farmer remained ever present.
“Feed grain exports started slowly, but the last half of the year saw a rapid surge in sales and shipments, providing a strong finish to the 2019-2020 marketing year. As we move into 2020-2021, the council is encouraged by the near-record sales happening already in the current marketing year,” he added.
According to USGC, U.S. corn exports represented the largest percentage decline in 2019-20, down 14% year over year, due to competitive South American supplies. Exports for the year totaled 45.1 million tons (1.78 billion bu.). Mexico retained its position as the top market for U.S. corn, at 14.5 million tons (571 million bu.), down 10% year over year. Notably, Colombia increased imports slightly to 4.91 million tons (193 million bu.). China skyrocketed into the top five U.S. corn buyers, purchasing 2.09 million tons (82.2 million bu.) -- a dramatic increase from 259,000 tons (11.6 million bu.) the prior year.
USGC said the COVID-19 pandemic knocked back U.S. ethanol production and global demand for fuel ethanol, but thanks to a surge in demand for industrial uses like sanitizer, ethanol exports ended the year at 1.36 billion gal. (482 million bu. in corn equivalent), down 12% year over year. Exports to Brazil also saw a substantial year-over-year decline of nearly 30% to 263 million gal. (93.3 million bu. in corn equivalent). As a result, Canada claimed the top market slot at 321 million gal. (114 million bu. in corn equivalent).
Still, the council said reduced production from U.S. ethanol plants in spring and summer 2020 had a ripple effect on the availability and prices of U.S. DDGS. As a result, U.S. DDGS exports ended the year 6.6% lower at 10.5 million tons. Mexico remained the top buyer, although total imports of 1.8 million tons represented nearly an 11% year-over-year decline. By contrast, several top buyers of U.S. DDGS had increases from the previous year, including South Korea, Thailand, Turkey, Japan, the Philippines and New Zealand.
U.S. exports of barley and barley products also declined 7.5% year over year to 493,000 tons (22.6 million bu.). Mexico was the top buyer, at 350,000 tons (16.1 million bu.), but this was lower due to COVID-19-related restrictions that limited beer production during the summer of 2020, USGC noted.
One sector seeing an upward bounce for the 2019-20 marketing year was U.S. sorghum exports, coming in at 5.15 million tons (203 million bu.). USGC relayed that China was the driver, importing 3.67 million tons (144 million bu.). While this is a substantial increase from the previous year, exports remain well below previous highs. Exports to Mexico also increased 21.5% to 594,000 tons (23.4 million bu.), and smaller buyers like Mexico and Japan also made significant increases.