U.S. and Global Ag Trade Resilient in Face of Pandemic


By Chuck Abbott, Successful Farming

Agriculture.com - 11/16/2020


Partly because food is indispensable, agricultural trade has been remarkably robust despite the disruptions of the pandemic, said Ohio State professor Ian Sheldon during the university’s annual agricultural outlook conference. Inventories of key staples are at high levels worldwide so “there’s no reason why a health crisis turns into a global food crisis,” he said.


The pandemic drove down the market prices for most major commodities last winter and early spring due to the economic slowdown that accompanied the coronavirus. Yet by the end of May, ag exports worldwide were 2-percent higher than a year earlier. There were regional variations. Most prominently, South America benefited from a large soybean crop in Brazil while Europe and North America experienced declines of 4 percent or more. By contrast, the WTO forecasts an overall 9.2-percent decline for global trade this year.


Agricultural trade has been resilient because food is a necessity, regardless of circumstances, said Sheldon. “Also, bulk marine shipments of commodities [grains and oilseeds] … were not actually subject to major disruptions,” unlike meat and dairy processors who were more reliant on manual labor.


Farm exports totaled $135.9 billion in the fiscal year that ended Sept. 30, marginally higher than $135.5 billion in fiscal 2019, according to USDA data. The year-end total was less than 3-percent smaller than the USDA forecast before the pandemic.


“The pandemic has not really led to any major changes in U.S. agricultural trade, exports or imports,” said Sheldon. The downturns of early spring were soon followed by upturns. Exports saw “this relatively aggressive pick up over the last three or four months,” he said. Imports were nearly the same as in 2019.


Exports are expected to grow marginally...