Record-Breaking Exports Year Could Have Been Even Better

Clint Thompson Exports/Imports

The Port of Savannah.
Georgia Ports Authority / Jeremy Polston

By Clint Thompson

Records were made to be broken. It might have taken seven years, but the U.S. finally eclipsed its best exports mark in 2021.

Veronica Nigh, economist with American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), discusses the value of $177 billion of exports of U.S. farm and food products had in 2021.

“I think everyone was expecting it to be up, but maybe not to the magnitude that it was. I think the global inflation increasing at the pace it ended up increasing at during the second half of 2021 certainly moved that number up more than some were expecting. It’s up 18% on value from 2020 and eclipsed the previous record set in 2014 by almost 15%,” Nigh said.

What Might Have Been

Veronica Nigh

Amazingly, the numbers could have been even better.

What if China would have fulfilled its obligations in the Phase One Agreement? Nigh said exports to China fell short by $13 billion.

“They fell a little off pace in the last quarter of the year. The two-year commitment, total exports from the U.S. should have been about $73 billion. It ended up short by $13 billion which is significant for sure,” Nigh said. “I think the Ag community has been resolute in our talks with administration. It’s important for us and for our sector and China to live up to those commitments. That $13 billion shortfall needs to be purchased in 2022. We don’t want that to be just lost sales.”

There was also shipping delays that severely hampered the specialty crop sector.

“The other thing to think about, in addition to China falling short, is that all the challenges in the transportation space certainly hindered the ability to get product out the door. The constraints on the container side, the consumer-oriented goods, we’ve estimated that the exporters could have shipped out at least $4 billion more in U.S. Ag products had the delays not been what they were on the container side,” Nigh said.

“It’s been the specialty crop folks and other consumer-oriented type of products that have been borne the brunt of the container challenges. When you look at $4 billion in lost sales there, a good amount of that is coming from the specialty crop folks.”