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Ethanol exports end 2019 at near-record levels

Final 2019 exports net 13% under 2018 record to end at 1.47 billion gal.

The official numbers are in, and they confirm that U.S. ethanol exports netted the second-highest volume on record in 2019. According to government data released and analyzed by the Renewable Fuels Assn. (RFA), American shippers rallied at the year’s end, with ethanol sales surging 37% higher to 146.5 million gal. in December. While coming in 13% under the 2018 record, ethanol producers still garnered a robust 1.47 billion gal. in exports last year.

In December, nearly all (96%) domestic ethanol sold outside U.S. borders landed in 10 countries, with most experiencing healthy growth, RFA said in a statement. Exports to Canada expanded 18% to 31.7 million gal. — sufficient to regain its status as the top customer after yielding that title to Brazil in November. Shipments to Brazil grew 14% to 30.8 million gal., the largest volume in eight months. India was the third-largest destination at 27.8 million gal., scaling up from 3.3 million gal. in November. Substantial volumes were also exported to South Korea (15.7 million gal.) and the European Union (14.4 million gal.).

Shipments of U.S. undenatured fuel ethanol rallied in December, up 29% to 68.2 million gal. Eighty percent of exports were destined for Brazil (30.8 million gal., up 14%), India (12.8 million gal., up 287%) and the Netherlands (10.9 million gal., up 137%). Another dozen countries secured the remaining volumes of undenatured exports, including the Philippines (5.1 million gal.) and the U.K. (3.5 million gal.).

Sales of U.S. denatured fuel ethanol pressed higher in December, lifting 47% to 76.4 million gal. — the highest monthly total since October 2018, aided by record shipments to India, Korea and Mexico. Forty percent of exports crossed the border to Canada (30.6 million gal., up 21%), with sizeable shipments also landing in India (15.0 million gal.), Korea (13.8 million gal.), Colombia (6.7 million gal.), Mexico (3.7 million gal.) and Peru (3.4 million gal.).

Exports of U.S. ethanol for non-fuel, non-beverage purposes declined 24% to 1.9 million gal., the lowest volume in two years. Most product was shipped to Canada (900,000 gal.), Korea (600,000 gal.) and Colombia (300,000 gal.), RFA senior analyst Ann Lewis said.

Imports from Brazil moderated in December as the U.S. purchased 14.0 million gal. of cane ethanol, scaling back from the 25.5 million gal. purchased in November. Total U.S. ethanol imports in 2019 increased 162% to 203.6 million gal., up from 77.6 million gal. the prior year. “In fact, more foreign ethanol entered our borders in 2019 than the last three years combined, marking the first time to breach 100 million gal. since 2013,” Lewis said.

U.S. exports of dried distillers grains with solubles (DDGS) — the animal feed co-product generated by dry-mill ethanol plants — declined 16% in December to 767,682 metric tons. Mexico solidly retained its position as the top U.S. DDGS export market despite diminished sales (143,330 mt, down 29%), capturing nearly one-fifth of the global market in December.

Shippers exported 125,303 mt to South Korea, a 19% gain over November and the largest volume in nine months. Indonesia boosted imports by 31% to 95,405 mt, the largest in more than a year. Significant volumes also landed in Vietnam (80,041 mt, down 5%), Japan (80,041 mt, up 102%) and Canada (43,991 mt, up 6%). Total exports of U.S. DDGS realized in 2019 were 10.79 million mt, landing 9% under 2018 levels.

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