Ever heard a line like, trade is vital to American agriculture? Or, agricultural trade is an important contributor to the nation’s economy?
We’ll bet you have. You may even have used these lines yourself.
But what are the facts behind these oft-repeated generalities? How does agricultural trade really measure up?
We scrutinized the data and consulted trade analysts. Here are some of the answers we found — compiled in this special selection of ratings, rankings, top ten lists and other factual morsels that are worth a byte in any exporter’s laptop files.
In an age where numbers count and everyone likes to keep score, try one of these out at your next meeting, sales presentation or speech.
Note: Data are for calendar years, unless otherwise specified.
Meat Beats Steel
Dollar for dollar in 1999, the United States exported more meat than steel, more corn than cosmetics, more wheat than coal, more bakery products than motorboats, and more fruits and vegetables than household appliances. Agriculture generally ranks among the top six U.S. industry groups in export sales, accounting for about 7% of the nation’s total goods exports by value.
Best and Worst Years for Exports
In the last two decades, the best year for U.S. agricultural exports was fiscal 1996, when sales peaked at a record high of just under $60 billion. The worst year occurred a decade earlier in 1986 when nominal export value slumped to around $26 billion. U.S. agricultural exports in fiscal 1999 totaled $49 billion.
Nearly a Third of Crops Go Abroad
How important are foreign markets to U.S. agriculture? One measure is the export share of production. Although shares vary widely among different products, comparisons between production and export volumes confirm agriculture’s heavy reliance on global markets. For crops, the export share of production has averaged about 30% since 1992, reaching as high as 36% in 1995. For meats and other animal products, the export share is steadily increasing, topping 9% in 1997 and 1998. For all agricultural products as a group, foreign markets take about one-fifth of U.S. farm production.
Thinking Outside the Borders
America’s a big and prosperous market of 275 million people, but there are plenty more consumers beyond U.S. borders. In fact, 96% of the world’s more than 6 billion consumers can be found in other countries.
Ag Serves Up Steady Trade Surpluses
Agriculture continues to produce a trade surplus, as it has every year since the late 1950′s. It’s a welcome exception to the ever-growing U.S. merchandise trade deficit, which reached a record-high $346 billion last year. U.S. agricultural exports outpaced imports by nearly $11 billion in 1999. As recently as 1996, this surplus topped $27 billion. In the last four years, the United States exported nearly 16 times as much wheat by value as we imported, 19 times as much coarse grains, and 145 times as much soybeans. Over the same period, U.S. exports of red meats topped imports by 63% or an average $1.7 billion a year. For poultry meat, imports are negligible, while 1996-99 exports averaged $2.2 billion a year. Only in a few major product categories do imports exceed exports.
Exports Equal Jobs
Exports create jobs. For fiscal 1999, an estimated three-quarters of a million full-time U.S. jobs were related to the production, assembly, processing and distribution of U.S. agricultural products for export. Of this total, the majority — some 470,000 jobs — were off the farm.
No Contest for Top Export State — California Is No. 1
Measured by the value of state agricultural exports, California is king. In fiscal 1998, California exported an estimated $7.6 billion in farm and food products. No. 2 Iowa followed at $3.5 billion. In 18 states, agricultural exports accounted for $1 billion or more in sales. For all states, on average, exports accounted for 27% of farm cash receipts.
Consumer Products Set Growth Pace
Corn, wheat, soybeans and other bulk commodities used to dominate the trade picture, accounting for two-thirds or more of total U.S. agricultural exports. No more. Since the mid-1980s, the most rapid and consistent growth has been among consumer-oriented products–everything from meats to snacks, and fruits and vegetables to pet foods. This category ranked third in 1985, after bulk and intermediate products. By 1999, for the first time ever, consumer-oriented exports captured the lead, aided in part by depressed bulk commodity prices.
U.S. Still World’s Largest Exporter
The United States remains the world’s largest exporter of agricultural products, followed by the European Union. The U.S. captured 18% of 1999 global agricultural trade, estimated at $270 billion. In other words, U.S. products account for about $1 out of every $5.50 in exports worldwide. Although our market share has been higher, that is not bad for a country with only 4% of global population, fewer than 1% of the farmers, and perhaps a tenth of the arable land area. Recent slippage in the U.S. market share reflects a strong dollar, weakness in major U.S. markets and intense foreign competition in grains and oilseeds.
Big Markets Begin With Japan
Despite a $2.8-billion drop in purchases of U.S. agricultural products since 1996, Japan retains its long-held position as our leading export market. Its spending on U.S. grains, meats, fruits and vegetables, and other farm products totaled $8.9 billion in 1999. Canada followed with a record $7.1 billion in purchases, bypassing the 15-nation European Union at $6.4 billion. Mexico was fourth at $5.6 billion, and South Korea completed the top five. Back in 1979, Asia replaced Western Europe as our largest regional market, but much recent attention has focused on our North American neighbors. NAFTA partners Canada and Mexico together bought $12.7 billion in U.S. farm products last year.