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US wheat exports fall to all-time low

U.S. supplies are impeded by diminishing Mississippi River and rivalry from abundant worldwide grain stocks.

2 Lisa Selfie December 2020 Headshot
Wheat In A Field Via Pixabay August 2022

U.S. wheat export sales, as reported by the most recent USDA Foreign Agricultural Services U.S. Export Sales report, are well behind last year’s pace.

Bloomberg reported that drought has dried up the Mississippi, where about two-thirds of U.S. grain exports historically have been shipped on barges to the Gulf. Water levels have improved slightly from last month’s record low, but the world’s crop buyers have already been purchasing more supplies from elsewhere. T

Since June 1, wheat export inspections at the U.S. Gulf are down 40% from a year ago, while the Pacific Northwest volume is down 16%.

Only 71,608 metric tons of U.S. wheat were inspected for export in the week ended November 2, the lowest for any week since records began in January 1983 reported Reuters. That surpasses the previous low of 85,672 tons set in late December 2022.

USDA predicts U.S. wheat exports at a 52-year low of 19.05 million tons in 2023-24, which began on June 1. As of Oct. 26, export sales totaled 11.4 million tons, some 60% of the full-year target, above the date’s recent average of 58%.

According to the Export Sales report, total U.S. commitments (the sum of accumulated exports and outstanding sales) are at 9.4 million metric tons, down 14% from the same point last year. The full marketing year (MY) forecast at 700 million bushels is 8% below the 759 million bushels exported in the previous year. Total commitments at this point account for 50% of the full marketing year estimate, compared with 53% a year ago. In the previous eight years, only 2018/19 had a lower percent (45%) of accounted for at this point in the year.

Export sales pace varies by class with hard red winter (HRW) and white running relatively slow, while soft red winter (SRW) and hard red spring (HRS) have recently accelerated. Official U.S. wheat exports for June-August 2023, calculated with data from the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of the Census, are estimated at 164 million bushels, 22% below the 209 million bushels during June-August 2022.  

Reuters noted one bright spot for U.S. wheat exporters is the large U.S. wheat purchases China has recently made as heavy rains have damaged up to 20% of China’s wheat crop. Chinese importers have about 813,000 tons of U.S. wheat on the books as of October 26, up notably from a year ago but a bit less than in 2021.

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