U.S. farm exports surge, helped by growing demand in developing world

China has been scooping up American grain to feed livestock. And Beijing is showing signs of relaxing its policy of grain self-sufficiency.
(Daniel Acker / Bloomberg)

The developing world has largely usurped U.S. manufacturing, but emerging economies are increasingly big customers of American farmers.

Between 2000 and 2013, American fruit, grain, meat and dairy sold overseas nearly tripled to $140.9 billion, making agricultural products one of the hottest exports in the last decade, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released Wednesday.

Developing countries with growing middle-class populations and strengthening currencies powered the binge on U.S. food, which has been a boon for California almond growers, Iowa soybean farmers and others.

Emerging consumer markets such as China’s are struggling to feed massive populations with ever growing demand for richer diets.


“Sales to developing countries were up about 250% between 2000 and 2013, and they now account for two-thirds of U.S. agricultural exports,” the USDA said.

China was the leading buyer of American agricultural products at $23.5 billion last year – just ahead of Canada’s $21.4 billion in purchases.

The Asian nation has been scooping up American grains to feed livestock. Those imports could grow as China is now showing signs of relaxing its policy of grain self-sufficiency to devote its shrinking share of arable land to higher-value crops such as fruit and vegetables.

American dairy companies are looking to expand their market share in China in the coming years as the world’s second-largest economy experiences surging demand for milk to deliver protein to infants and young children.


Expectations are also rising that China will soon relax a restriction on U.S. beef imports in place since 2003 over bovine spongiform encephalopathy, commonly known as mad-cow disease.

Livestock were among the most valuable U.S. exports across the globe last year at $18.9 billion. Other high-value exports included fruits and nuts ($31.4 billion), soybeans ($20.9 billion) and wheat ($10 billion).

The USDA said export growth could be tempered slightly by slowing growth in what’s commonly referred to as the BRIC nations --  Brazil, Russia, India and China.

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