Looking for New Opportunities After 100 Years of Export Success

The 100th anniversary of USDA’s Agricultural Outlook Forum this past month put farm trade at the top of mind. Agricultural exports have expanded a lot in that time.

“What we have really seen over the past 100 years, is rapid and really expansive agriculture export growth, we’ve seen this because we’ve seen productivity gains in the United States, technological advancements, and market liberalization.” 

That’s USDA Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Alexis Taylor. She wrote an article for the USDA looking back over the last 100 years.

Taylor notes the billion-dollar farm exports before World War 2 doubled by war’s end. New market access of the Soviet Union and China led to a four hundred percent increase in exports in the 70s. Then a booming farm economy in the last two decades led to a record two hundred billion dollars of exports in 2022.

And while there has been a downturn in U.S. ag exports over the past couple years from those record levels, Taylor thinks they are still very strong and at the high end of the records, even if they’re not projected to be higher this year.

“Part of that is we are seeing some strong trade headwinds, the strong U.S. dollar for instance makes the U.S a very attractive market, but also makes it harder for us to compete with markets around the world. We’re also seeing increased competition come online, particularly from South America.” 

This is why the USDA created the Regional Agriculture Promotion Program, where they are investing 1.2 billion dollars over the next five years to partner with the agriculture sector and develop new markets like Southeast Asia, Latin America, and Africa.

“Where we see over the next 25+ years some really great economic opportunities, by 2050, one in four people on the planet will live on the African continent. And so an opportunity to invest in some of these new markets, less traditional markets.” 

 Traveling the world, she says climate change, resilience, and how food is produced is a topic everywhere she goes, from the government to buyers of the product.

“Consumers are demanding it, they’re asking those questions of the United States and we’re seeing it all around the world as well. And I think there’s a real opportunity here, nobody is more sustainable and productive than our farmers and ranchers in the United States. But we are going to have to continue to produce more with less. Less land, less water, different changing climate patterns. And making sure trading systems are open to new tools, new innovations that come down the pipe. I think there’s an opportunity for our producers to be able to capitalize on that consumer demand.” 

Taylor says that’s why the USDA launched the partnership for climate smart commodities, investing over three billion dollars around new climate smart farming practices in every state on 25 million acres.

“And each of those projects actually has a marketing component because we believe there is a market there. There will be a value to our farmers at the end that those consumers are willing to pay.”