U.S. Ag Exports Ride a 57-Year Surplus Streak

May 19, 2017 10:42 AM
USDA Grain Unloader

Did you know U.S. agricultural exports have been traded at a surplus every year since 1959? According to USDA-ERS economists Alex Melton and Bryce Cooke, U.S. ag exports have accounted for around 10% to 11% of total exports in recent years.

Contrast that with ag imports, which account for around 5% of total U.S. imports.

“The result is that agriculture has become a reliable trade surplus sector, but the size of the surplus has varied greatly recently,” Melton and Cooke report in the ERS Amber Waves data feature, U.S. Agricultural Trade in 2016: Major Commodities and Trends.

U.S. Agricultural Trade Balance

Total ag commodity exports in 2016 totaled $135 billion. That’s $1.8 billion higher than 2015.

Melton and Cooke note that exports tend to rise and fall more sharply, while imports of agricultural goods have a generally smoother ride.

“[That’s] because the United States has a developed, stable economy with a preference for out-of-season good and high-value items,” they write. “Meanwhile, the country’s major export commodities … tend to fluctuate more in response to price changes because there is little to differentiate the U.S. and its competitors’ raw goods, compared to higher value processed products.”

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