WHILE 2013 may still become a record-setting year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture trimmed its forecast for U.S. agricultural exports by $2.5 billion.
Still, the midyear update, released May 30, pegs exports at a record $139.5 billion, with imports estimated at a record $111 billion.
"This report is promising news that keeps American agriculture on track to continue the strongest period of exports in our nation's history," Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said. "Agricultural exports are an important part of our economy, supporting more than 1 million jobs."
USDA's Economic Research Service projected smaller grain and feed exports, based primarily on smaller export volumes and reduced unit values for wheat and corn. The current estimate of $30 billion is $2.8 billion smaller than the February forecast.
Of the feed export projection, wheat exports tallied $9 billion, down $1.2 billion from February. Global production is projected to hit record levels at a time when U.S. production is down, which will limit the competitiveness of U.S. wheat abroad.
Presumed lower corn volumes led to a $1.7 billion reduction in USDA's estimate for coarse grain exports. Corn prices fell roughly 5% during the quarter leading up to the revised estimate, although USDA expects exports of dried distillers grains with solubles to grow 1 million metric tons.
While grain and feed exports are expected to slip slightly, oilseed sales are expected to grow by $200 million to reach $32.6 billion. Larger soybean meal volumes, however, are expected to be offset by cheaper values for all soybean products.
Looking at livestock, dairy and poultry products, USDA kept its export forecast steady at a record $30.1 billion. Declines in pork, broiler meat and animal fats offset gains for dairy, beef, hides and skins.
Breaking out exports by region, USDA said China continues to be the largest U.S. export market, with shipments for the first half of the fiscal year nearly 40% larger than those to Canada, the second-largest U.S. export destination. China is projected to import $22.5 billion worth of U.S. agricultural commodities and products.
Japan's purchases of U.S. products are expected to slip $800 million to $12.7 billion due to reduced corn exports. Similarly, corn sales to South Korea are expected to be off 88% from the previous year.
Along with its smaller export forecast, USDA lowered its projection for U.S. imports of farm products by $1.5 billion. However, the forecast is still a record and represents 7% growth from 2012, when imports grew 9%.
USDA noted that consumer spending on food and beverages over the past year has slowed. While spending on food away from home still outpaces spending on food consumed at home, both categories were weaker over the past four quarters.
Prices of major farm commodity imports, including coffee, cocoa, sugar, rubber and vegetable oils, have fallen sharply from their 2012 levels. Meanwhile, the agency noted that personal disposable income grew 3.2% this year through March.
"We must continue working to strengthen markets and opportunity in American agriculture," Vilsack concluded. "Today, we're looking ahead to the next big (trade) achievements — particularly a Trans-Pacific Partnership with Asian nations and a Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership with the European Union."