The U.S. farm families who produce the wheat and the industry that supplies it are committed to keeping and open and transparent market. There are many reasons why our overseas customers know they can depend on our supply chain’s integrity, the quality of U.S. wheat and our unmatched reliability as a supplier. A crucial example is the third party wheat inspection procedures that yield valuable data customers can use, with help from U.S. Wheat Associates (USW), to get even more value from their purchases.

USW has partnered with USDA’s Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) and Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) to produce an “Overview of U.S. Wheat Inspection.” This publication compiles official sampling, weighing, inspection, and certification procedures employed by FGIS, or FGIS-authorized state and private agencies, for U.S. wheat export shipments. The “Overview” provides a convenient, concise reference for U.S. wheat importers and end users about U.S. wheat standards, inspection methods, procedures, and resulting data about their purchases.

Federally Mandated Wheat Inspection

Based on two congressional acts establishing a standardized process, trained and certified officials inspect and grade all wheat exported from the United States as it is loaded onto an export vessel, whether it be a train or ship. This independent wheat inspection procedure sets the United States apart by providing a form of certainty and protection for global wheat buyers.

The supply chain follows federally regulated and uniform grain segregation and inspection procedures. U.S. country elevators and export elevators inspect and test wheat as it arrives and segregates by class and quality to meet customer requirements. FGIS independently inspects wheat at vessel loading to certify that the quality loaded matches the customer’s specifications. No wheat is loaded onto a vessel until inspection is completed.

FGIS Quality Assurance

Every FGIS field office has a Quality Assurance Specialist trained to ensure inspectors and testing equipment are performing accurately. A Board of Appeals and Review is comprised of the Agency’s most senior inspectors who make final determinations on grain quality assessments.

Five Inspection Operations

An FGIS inspector uses a Boerner Divider to cut down the wheat sample into 2 smaller, equal portions for inspection. 

The “Overview of U.S. Wheat Inspection” describes the five basic operations performed at export before and during vessel loading: stowage examination; weighing; sampling; inspection; and certification.

Official weighing is mandatory for all grain exported from the United States by sea. FGIS integrates weighing systems into export elevator systems and supervises the entire weighing process. Results are documented and reviewed to certify the true weight of the cargo.

When a bulk vessel arrives at a U.S. export elevator, federal inspectors examine the ship’s holds for potential defects to ensure the vessel is substantially clean, dry, and ready to receive wheat and issue an official stowage examination certificate for the buyer.

By means of a standardized “diverter” mechanical device, FGIS inspectors in an onsite laboratory receive a consistent sample volume of wheat entering the elevator’s shipping bins, which is held until inspections are complete. After passing preliminary tests, the FGIS sample is divided into a “work” sample used to determine all grading factors and to inspect and certify other quality factors specified in the sales contract, and a “file” sample that FGIS keeps sealed for 90 days after wheat inspection.

Each sublot of grain must meet, within specified tolerances, the official grade and factors the buyer requests in their contract. Sublots that do not meet tolerances are not loaded into the vessel and are returned to the elevator. An inspection log is recorded for each sublot, providing a complete record of all inspection information that the buyer may request. Local USW representatives can help buyers adjust their future contract specifications based on this inspection data to ensure they receive the quality they need at the best price. The “Overview of U.S. Wheat Inspections” booklet online includes examples of all official certifications and logs the federally regulated U.S. grain inspection procedures generate.

USW Customer Support

USW strongly supports the unique U.S. grain inspection system as a competitive advantage to the world’s wheat buyers and makes an effort to demonstrate the integrity of the U.S. wheat supply chain in cooperation with the FGIS international affairs office. In addition to publishing the “Overview of U.S. Wheat Inspection,” USW and FGIS have conducted many inspection workshops for overseas buyers.

USW believes this wheat inspection training for importing customers gives them a deeper understanding of and increased trust in the FGIS inspection and certification process. The changes implemented in the mills following the training sessions should result in fewer discrepancies between the FGIS grade and the results of local, in-plant inspections, leading to increased satisfaction with U.S. wheat.

In cooperation with USW, FGIS agent José Robinson was in Lima, Peru, in 2019 to conduct half-day seminars for wheat importing companies. Robinson educated flour mill quality control managers on the FGIS wheat inspection process as part of USW’s trade and technical service activities.

Here are online resources for additional information:

USW Dependable People, Reliable Wheat Fact Sheet

Official Grain Inspection & Weighing System

USDA Grain Inspectors Work to Uphold America’s Reputation for Quality, Support New Markets

ATP Funds, FGIS To Help Train Importers to Recognize Wheat Grade Factors



With just 6 weeks left in marketing year (MY) 2023/24, many buyers are locking in purchases for June and July shipment, shifting much of the export focus to MY 2024/25, or “new crop,” U.S. wheat sales that are gradually ramping up at a faster pace compared to a year ago. The following will outline MY 2023/24 sales pace to date and provide an initial look at MY 2024/25 export sales.

2023/24 Recap

Throughout MY 2023/24 market conditions turned back to buyers. From June 1, 2023, to present, U.S. wheat FOB export price dropped 15% on average for all classes and export locations. This trend was driven by Black Sea competition pressuring U.S. and global wheat prices. As of April 30, 2024, Russian wheat is still the cheapest on the world market, at $214 per metric ton (MT) FOB (12.5% protein on a dry moisture basis).

As world wheat values fall, U.S. prices follow, and the lower prices have helped boost exports for two U.S. wheat classes. In MY 2023/24 to date, China imported over 1.2 million metric tons (MMT) of soft red winter (SRW), contributing to a 51% increase in total SRW export sales as of April 18, 2024. Likewise, hard red spring (HRS) sales hover 13% ahead of the year prior at 6.4 MMT, making up 34% of the total U.S. wheat export sales. Nonetheless, the positive export performance for HRS and SRW does not offset the significant decline in hard red winter (HRW) and soft white (SW) exports. To date, HRW exports sit at 3.6 MMT, down 28% from the year prior. Likewise, SW exports sit 15% below last year’s pace.

We can expect the 2023/24 sales pace to decline further as customers seek shipments for June and July delivery. For the week ending April 18, for example, net sales of just 82,000 metric tons (MT) were reported for delivery in 2023/24. Despite increased exports for some classes, USDA expects wheat exports to reach 19.3 MMT, the lowest level since 1971/72 if realized. Moreover, the current pace puts total commitments to date 500,000 MT below the projections.

This line and bar chart compares USDA's export estimate to the by-week pace of sales in 2022/23 and 2023/24 and to the 5-year average sales pace, indicating a decline in sales.

For the week ending April 18, net sales of 82,000 MT were reported for delivery in 2023/24. Year-to-date 2023/24 commercial sales totaled 18.8 MMT. USDA expects 2023/24 U.S. wheat exports of 19.3 MMT, and commitments to date are 97% of total projected exports. Current exports sit just 1% ahead of last year’s pace, but 17% below the five-year average. Source: USDA FAS Export Sales.

Strong Start

Despite the slower pace of U.S. wheat sales in MY 2023/24, the new crop outlook for 2024/25 is more optimistic. Buyers are beginning to take advantage of lower prices and securing early shipments for MY 2024/25. For the week ending April 18, the total known outstanding sales for MY 2024/25 reached 2.1 MMT, 112% ahead of last year’s pace, with net sales coming in at 371,858 MT.

HRS continues to lead export sales, with 743,580 MT sold to date, a 211% increase from last year. Likewise, soft white sales are up 670% at 675,180 MT, HRW is up 100% to 347,200 MT, and durum sales are up 80% at 66,500 MT. Acting as the outlier, SRW sales are 34% behind last year, at 314,200 MT as prices remain elevated relative to SW.

This bar chart shows new marketing year U.S. wheat sales to the top 10 countries by volume in 2023 and 2024 as of mid-April.

For the week ending April 18, the total known outstanding sales and accumulated exports of all classes of wheat for the 2024/25 marketing year reached 2.1 MMT,112% ahead of last year’s pace, with net sales coming in at 371,858 MT. HRS export sales sit 211% above last year, SW 670% higher, HRW 100% higher, and durum 80% higher. Acting as the outlier, SRW sales are 34% behind last year’s pace. Source: USDA FAS Export Sales.

Contributing to the sales increase, several customers have already bought more U.S. wheat in MY 2024/25 compared to this time last year. So far, South Korea is the top U.S. wheat buyer, with 389,500 MT booked, a significant increase from 45,300 MT the previous year. During the week of March 18, SW prices fell as low as $219/MT (according to the U.S. Wheat Associates Price Report) tracking the decreasing trend in the global wheat market. During this period, South Korean feed grain importers bought feed wheat cargos from the U.S., boosting their SW imports. However, according to Channy Bae, Country Director, USW/Seoul, this is a short-term opportunity for South Korean feed manufacturers and their purchases will shift relative to the price of corn and other origins.

The next largest new crop buyers to date are the Philippines, Mexico, and Japan with year over year increases of 348%, 30% and 83%, respectively. Likewise, buyers in Thailand and Panama have significantly outpaced their 2023/24 purchases, coming in at 239% and 336% higher. Some of the recent increases can be attributed to customers’ need for product and shipment cadence as well as customers taking advantage of more competitive pricing.

This bar chart demonstrates the increased U.S. wheat export sales pace to 10 countries to date in 2024 compared to the same period in 2023.

To date, South Korea, the Philippines, and Mexico are the top buyers of U.S. wheat. Year over year increases of 760%, 348%, and 30% have been recorded thus far. Buyers in Thailand and Panama have also significantly outpaced their 2023/24 purchases, coming in at 239% and 336% above last year’s level. Source: USDA FAS Export Sales.

Stay Tuned

Stronger early 2024/25 U.S. wheat sales come with one caveat. Traders identify farmer sales as a potential limiting factor moving into MY 2024/25. The lower wheat prices provide less incentive for farmers who use storage as a hedge to sell. The lack of liquidity limits the ability of exporters to aggressively price and market grain to meet the increased demand.

Looking ahead, the May 2024 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates will offer additional insights on U.S. wheat production, exports, and global demand. Likewise, the weekly Commercial Sales Report will provide real time updates to the U.S. wheat sales pace. As always, U.S. Wheat Associates remains committed to offering information and support for buyers transitioning into the 2024/25 marketing year.

By Tyllor Ledford, USW Market Analyst


During the summer of 2023, U.S. wheat export basis levels hovered near record lows as slow demand met seasonal weakness. Across almost all the U.S. wheat classes and export points, export basis levels hovered below average, signaling a unique pricing opportunity for U.S. wheat. Historical trends indicate that basis levels generally hit their lowest point during wheat harvest and increase in October, November, and December as export capacity tightens in response to an influx of corn and soybeans.

Following the seasonal pattern, U.S. export basis levels have since risen for all U.S. wheat classes. Despite the increase, the average HRS basis for the Gulf and Pacific Northwest sits 15% below the five-year average, while HRW and SRW sit 31% and 27% below the five-year average, respectively. The following examines the underlying factors driving this trend and its impact as we dive into the second half of marketing year 2023/24.

Line chart showing export basis levels from December 2022 to December 2023.

U.S. export basis levels generally follow a seasonal pattern, hitting lows during the wheat harvest and highs during October, November, and December as elevation capacity tightens in response to the corn and soybean harvest. In July 2023, basis levels hovered near record lows as seasonal weakness was coupled with an overall lack of demand. Source: U.S. Wheat Associates Price Report.

Excess Capacity Meets Slow Demand

The most significant factor influencing the below-average basis values is the overall decrease in export volume for grains and oilseeds, particularly for soybeans. According to USDA, for the week ending December 28, 2023, inspections for all grains (wheat, corn, and soybeans) were down 19% from the same period last year and 39% below the three-year average.

U.S. soybean exports are down due primarily to South American competition in the Chinese market. Reflected in the December 2023 World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates, forecast for U.S. soybean exports to all destinations came in at 47.6 MMT, down from 54.2 MMT in 2022/23 and 58.6 MMT in 2021/22. Meanwhile, total Brazilian exports are forecast at a record 99.5 MMT, up from 95.5 MMT the year prior and 18% above the five-year average as record quantities of soybeans are exported to China.

U.S. wheat exports face similar competitive headwinds. USDA export data shows that the export pace sits 14% behind last year and 26% below the five-year average.

Line chart shows price changes since 2019 for secondary grain railcar auction market bids to illustrate effect on wheat export basis.

Secondary Railcar Auction Market Bids (a real-time reflection of the supply and demand for rail freight) for October, November, and December sit at $65.12/car on average, down from $836.11/car last year and the five-year average of $262.96/car. The combined impact of excess capacity within the grain handling and logistics system has removed pressure on wheat basis levels and allowed them to drift lower. Source: USDA Rail Transportation Dashboard.

The decrease in overall grain volume has created surplus capacity in the U.S. logistics systems, particularly for the railroads. As a result, Secondary Railcar Auction Market Bids (a real-time reflection of the supply and demand for rail freight) for October, November, and December sit at $65.12/car on average, down from $836.11/car last year, and the five-year average of $262.96/car. The combined impact of excess capacity within the grain handling and logistics system has removed pressure on wheat basis levels and allowed them to drift lower.

Basis Levels Support Competitiveness

As overall grain export volume remains below average, we can expect the depressing impact on the basis to continue. South American competition for soybean exports will continue to influence grain markets, forcing participants to readjust to the changing dynamic.

The combined impact of below-average basis levels and the downward trend in wheat futures prices, driven by competition from the Black Sea, Canada, and other origins, has helped improve U.S. wheat competitiveness throughout 2023/24. Therefore, basis movements will continue to play a key role in maximizing value and capitalizing on opportunities as they arise in the market.

By USW Market Analyst Tyllor Ledford.


Over the last few weeks, we have explored all the major modes of the U.S. supply chain, evaluated recent trends, and highlighted how each type of transportation plays an integral role in the U.S. supply chain. Barging, rail, and oceangoing vessels work together to create the dependable supply chain importers of U.S. wheat expect. In periods of increased risk and volatility, a trustworthy, reliable supply chain is essential for providing customers with the wheat they need.

In the final installment of this series, we will explore the continued investment into the U.S. supply chain and highlight recent projects planned to keep the U.S. inland logistics system running efficiently and effectively.

This Just In

On Nov. 6, the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Maritime Administration (MARAD) recently announced that more than 40 ports across the United States will receive $653 million in funding for improvement projects that will help with the movement of grain. Under the Port Infrastructure Development Program, the funding will help grow capacity and increase efficiency at coastal seaports, Great Lakes ports and inland river ports.

Stakeholder Commitment

With private companies owning and operating grain export infrastructure and assets, the U.S. supply chain benefits from significant commercial investment to ensure the effectiveness of the logistics system. Holding one of the largest stakes within inland transportation, the U.S. Class I railroads value the system’s reliability and understand its importance to wheat buyers worldwide.

One of the latest examples of continued private investment in the U.S. supply chain is the newly constructed rail bridge at Sandpoint Junction in the Burlington Northern Santa Fe (BNSF) rail network. On August 7, the inaugural trip on the new Sandpoint Junction Connector rail bridge occurred, representing the official opening of two-way traffic crossing Lake Pend Oreille in northern Idaho. This junction is crucial because it is a merging point between the BNSF and Montana Rail Network and serves as the primary gateway that links grain grown in the Northern Plains to port access in the Pacific Northwest (PNW).

Map of the Pacific Northwest showing the location of an investment in the U.S. supply chain moving wheat to PNW ports.

The new Sandpoint Junction Connector rail bridge will allow two-way traffic across Lake Pend Oreille in Idaho, helping improve efficiency for wheat and other grain moving by rail from the Northern Plains to the PNW for export. Source: BNSF.

CPKC Network

CPKC railroad logoAnother noteworthy project is a $100 million investment commissioned by Kansas City Southern in October 2022 (now part of the Canadian Pacific Kansas City rail network) to construct a new international rail bridge connecting Laredo, Texas, U.S. to Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas, Mexico. The bridge expansion will allow trains to operate in both directions simultaneously, granting more economical access to the U.S. supply chain for Mexico, the largest importer of U.S. wheat.

Government Investment

Complimenting private investment into the domestic logistics systems, the U.S. federal government provides significant support to the U.S. grain supply chain to uphold its safety and dependability.

In September, the Department of Transportation Federal Railroad Administration granted $1.4 billion to finance 70 rail improvement projects through the Consolidated Rail Infrastructure and Safety Improvements program. The largest grant (nearly $73 million) is for the Palouse River and Coulee City Railroad (PCC) improvements by the Washington State Department of Transportation. The PCC, a regional shoreline railroad, carries wheat traffic in major wheat-growing counties in eastern Washington, and the upgrades will help improve wheat shipments to elevators and seaports in the PNW by allowing for higher speeds and larger railcars.

Prevention Is the Best Medicine

While capital investment and improvement are vital to maintaining the efficiency of the U.S. rail systems and promoting wheat exports in the face of strong global competition, the U.S. supply chain benefits most from continuous investment in maintenance and repairs by private companies and state and federal governments. The backbone of a dependable, reliable system lies in the safety and proper function of the infrastructure and assets that make up the supply chain.

An important example of the commitment to preventive maintenance is the upcoming lock and dam closure on the Columbia Snake River System. In January 2024, the Army Core of Engineers will be performing maintenance on major components at the John Day and McNary dams on the Columbia River and at the Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite dams on the Snake River, resulting in an extended river closure from January 14 to March 29, 2024. This maintenance represents a forward-thinking investment by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to ensure this critical waterway remains operational for decades to come.

Mississippi River Study

In addition, USACE is conducting a 5-year, Lower Mississippi River Comprehensive Management Study that it says will yield recommendations for effective and practical management of the Mississippi River from Cape Girardeau, MO, to the Gulf of Mexico, a key U.S. supply chain serving growing export demand for U.S. soft red winter wheat.

According to the USACE, the purpose of the study is to identify recommendations for the comprehensive management of the region across multiple purposes, including navigation, flood risk management, and environmental restoration.

The combined impact of preventive maintenance, efficiency improvements, and significant capital investment are key components that differentiate the U.S. wheat supply chain and help the U.S. wheat export supply system remain the most reliable in the world.

By USW Market Analyst Tyllor Ledford


According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, approximately 31% of U.S. exported wheat is moved by barge to export points in the Gulf of Mexico and the Pacific Northwest (PNW). Barging is an extremely safe, efficient, and competitive mode of transporting grain for export, contributing to our robust grain marketing system.

As key gateways for wheat exports, this article will explore recent barge freight trends on the Mississippi River (photo above) and Colombia Snake River System (CSRS), highlighting their effectiveness and providing updates about current issues.

Map of the U.S. shows the Mississippi River system, and the Columbia Snake River System to show where barging is important for U.S. wheat export logistics.

The Mississippi and the Columbia-Snake River systems are major transportation routes facilitating exports from the Gulf of Mexico and the PNW. Source: USDA/Agricultural Marketing Service/Transportation and Marketing Program/Transportation Economics Division.

Mississippi River Update

About 8% of all U.S. wheat moves on the Mississippi River system, bringing primarily soft red winter wheat (SRW) from growing regions in the eastern U.S. to export in the Gulf of Mexico via the Mississippi, Missouri, Illinois, and Ohio rivers. The Mississippi River system spans an immense geographic area, originating grain from as far north as Minnesota and as far east as Ohio and Illinois. Barges on the Mississippi River can carry 1,750 MT of grain, and a 15 barge tow can transport over 26,000 MT, the equivalent of 2 unit trains. Exports from the Gulf of Mexico account for 33% of U.S. wheat exports. Though wheat only accounts for 3% of Mississippi River barge movements, it is still an essential and efficient mode of transportation for U.S. wheat.

In the fall of 2022, low water levels on the lower Mississippi River slowed exports at ports on the Louisiana Gulf to their lowest level in 9 years. As a result, barge rates skyrocketed, and grain flows were restricted.

Monthly Downbound Grain Barge Rates

In October 2022, Mississippi River barge rates spiked to a record high of $2,092.83, 150% above the next highest price, due to low water levels and restricted barge flows Source: USDA Monthly Downbound Grain Barge Rates.

Since last fall, Mississippi River barge tariffs have normalized. However, according to the latest Grain Transportation Report, barge movements on the Mississippi River (Lock 27- Granite City, IL) are down 46% from last year and 72% below the three-year average. This decrease is attributed primarily to lower exports for all commodities (wheat, corn, and soybeans). Looking ahead, draft reductions in the lower Mississippi River may be a recurring issue as dryness in the Midwest persists.

this chart of barge movement on the Mississippi River show the downward trend in volumes seasonally and over the past several years.

Barge movements vary by season on the Mississippi River, but are down 46% from last year and 72% from the three-year average, driven primarily by a sharp decrease in grain exports. Weekly inspections for exported grain (wheat, corn, and soybeans) are down 47% from last year and 45% below the three-year average. Source: USDA Grain Transportation Report.

Columbia Snake River System

Shifting our focus to the PNW, the Columbia Snake River System (CSRS) accounts for 60% of all U.S. wheat exports via the deep-water draft ports on the Lower Columbia River. By barge alone, over 10% of all U.S. wheat exports move on the CSRS from as far inland as Lewiston, Idaho (360 miles). From an efficiency standpoint, according to the Pacific Northwest Waterway Association, barges on the CSRS can carry 3,500 MT of grain, and a four barge tow can transport over 14,000 MT, the equivalent of 1.5 unit trains and over 580 trucks.

From January 14 to March 29, 2024, an extended closure of the CSRS is scheduled to replace components at the John Day and McNary dams on the Columbia River and at the Lower Monumental, Little Goose, and Lower Granite dams on the Snake River. Routine maintenance assures the waterway remains a reliable mode of grain transportation and helps maintain the competitiveness of U.S. wheat. Similar to the Gulf of Mexico, grain exports from the PNW are down 71% from last year and 65% below the three-year average, subsequently impacting demand for barges.

Due to low export demand, grain exports from the PNW are down 71% from last year and 65% below the three-year average. Source: USDA FGIS Export Grain Inspections Data.

A Reliable System

U.S. Wheat Associates is committed to sharing transparent and pertinent information to customers about inland logistics issues, as domestic transportation makes up a significant portion of U.S. wheat export basis. Though barges only make up a small portion of U.S. inland logistics, barging helps ensure the U.S. remains the most reliable choice for world importers by complementing the use of Class I railroads and trucks. With diverse origination options and numerous modes of transportation, regardless of the class or export point, U.S. wheat is always available.

This is the first in a series of three articles about the efficient and reliable U.S. grain export transportation system. Future articles will focus on rail and ocean freight logistics.

By USW Market Analyst Tyllor Ledford.


In this article, originally published during U.S. Wheat Associates’ 40th anniversary in 2020, Wheat Letter describes the highly successful public-private partnership supporting U.S. wheat export market development that has endured since the 1950s.

The proper role of government…is that of partner with the farmer – never his master. By every possible means we must develop and promote that partnership – to the end that agriculture may continue to be a sound, enduring foundation for our economy and that farm living may be a profitable and satisfying experience. President Dwight D. Eisenhower, from a message to Congress on agriculture, Jan. 9, 1956.

In 2020, Wheat Letter offered historical perspective on how changes in federal programs, global market factors and relationships drew Western Wheat Associates and Great Plains Wheat Market Development Association ever closer together and led to the establishment of U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) as a single export market development organization to serve all U.S. wheat farmers.

A formal agreement between the Nebraska Wheat Commission and USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) to co-fund and implement export market development activities in 1958 marked the beginning of an enduring partnership between farmers, state wheat commissions, FAS and USW after the merger in 1980.

“I consider this to be one of the most successful partnerships between a U.S. government agency and private industry,” said USW President Vince Peterson. “Each partner brings unique core capabilities that support the export development mission. Our activities are jointly planned, funded and evaluated. We all share the risks, responsibilities and results.”

It Starts with the Farmer

State wheat commissions exist under state law generally to conduct promotion and market development through research, education and information. Commissions are funded by assessments paid by the farmer either by bushel or by a portion of the price at the time of sale. This is called a “checkoff” and though it is voluntary, a strong majority of farmers contribute their assessment. Farmer commissioners, either elected by their peers or appointed by their state’s governor, direct how the checkoff funds are to be used, such as for domestic promotion, public crop production research and variety development and export market development.

In 2017, Ralph Bean, who was then Agricultural Counselor, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, U.S. Embassy Manila (far right), met with farmers from South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana during their USW Board Team visit to South Asia . The farmers were guests of honor at the 9th International Exhibition on Bakery, Confectionary and Foodservice Equipment and Supplies, known as “Bakery Fair 2017,” hosted by the Filipino-Chinese Bakery Association Inc.

By agreeing to contribute a portion of checkoff funds to USW for export market development, state wheat commissions choose to become members of USW. The annual USW membership assessment is about $0.004 per bushel, multiplied by the average production in the state over the past five years. Currently 17 state wheat commissions are USW members.

The contributions from state wheat commissions, including special project funds as well as the personal time and talent invested by farmers and U.S. wheat supply chain participants, supports the USW mission to develop, maintain and expand international markets to enhance wheat’s profitability for U.S. wheat producers and its value for their customers. In addition, state commission contributions qualify USW to apply for federal export market development funds administered by FAS.

Linking U.S. Agriculture to the World

USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service has primary responsibility for overseas programs including market development, international trade agreements and negotiations, and the collection of statistics and market information. It also administers the USDA’s export credit guarantee and food aid programs and helps increase income and food availability in developing nations by mobilizing expertise for agriculturally led economic growth. The FAS mission is to link U.S. agriculture to the world to enhance export opportunities and global food security.

Jim Higgiston (left), who was then USDA/FAS Minister Counselor for Agricultural Affairs, met with Regional Director Chad Weigand (right) and farmer members of a USW Board Team in September 2018 in the capital city of Pretoria, South Africa. The FAS team in Pretoria included Kyle Bonsu, Agricultural Attache, Laura Geller, Senior Agricultural Attache, and Dirk Esterhuizen, Senior Agricultural Specialist.

FAS export market development programs available to USW as a cooperating organization include the Market Access Program (MAP), the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, the Agricultural Trade Promotion program and the Quality Samples Program. USW is required to conduct an extensive, annual strategic planning process that carefully examines every market, identifying opportunities for export growth and recognizing trends or policies that could threaten existing or prospective markets. FAS reviews this annual plan, the Unified Export Strategy (UES), results from previous years and private commitments to determine how USW will invest program funds. In 2022/23, federal funding provided $2.20 for every $1.00 contributed by farmers through their state wheat commissions.

“It is important that [overseas] buyers and government officials develop direct personal relationships not only with us at USDA but also directly with American farmers and ranchers,” said former USDA Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney in testimony before the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry in June 2019.

In 2017, Jeffery Albanese (pictured back row with hat), who was then Agricultural Attaché, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, U.S. Embassy Manila, joined aUSW Board Team, with farmers from South Dakota, North Dakota and Montana, and USW staff,  for a tour of San Miguel Mill, Inc. in the Philippines.

USDA in general and FAS specifically foster such relationships by acting as strategic partners with USW through the extensive FAS network of foreign service officers serving in 98 offices around the world and its civil service support in the United States. The foreign service officers provide vital liaison with government officials and are active in market development work. The civil service likewise plays a critical role in everything from supporting the foreign service, managing the relationships with organizations like USW, providing market information, analyzing trade policy barriers, and much more.

FAS programs make it possible for wheat farmers to have representatives from USW who work directly with overseas wheat buyers, flour millers and wheat food processors and translate customer needs directly back to the state wheat organizations, who are in turn helping direct research for wheat crop development in their states. This leads to improved varieties and helps farmers manage their crops with the end user in mind, who would otherwise be thousands of miles and multiple steps apart in the supply chain.

A team of U.S. wheat farmers from Kansas, Oklahoma and Arizona bound for trade visits to customers in Nigeria and South Africa met in September 2016 with then USDA Under Secretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs Ted McKinney (center) and other FAS staff in Washington, D.C.


Final export commitment data for marketing year (MY) 2022/23 that ended May 31 is now available, providing an overview of the year’s export and demand trends.

In this article, we will look back on the MY 2022/23 demand trends and current MY 2023/24 data to provide context for the year to come as the world wheat market conditions continue to recover from the year’s volatility.

Since the start of 2022/23, wheat prices and freight decreased, and currency markets stabilized following the steep price shock of Mr. Putin’s unprovoked invasion of Ukraine. Despite the improved conditions, volatility and its consequences still reverberate through the U.S. and global wheat markets.

MY 2022/23 Year End Commercial Sales

Even with the year’s price risk, when ordinary hard red winter wheat exported from the Gulf of Mexico averaged $10.70/MT FOB, Mexico, the Philippines, Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan remained among the top U.S. wheat importers in 2022/23 and have consistently been among the leading importers over the last five years.

As U.S. wheat competitiveness began to improve early in calendar 2023, China entered the market, ultimately surpassing Taiwan to claim the number five spot as their purchases surged 38% above the year prior. Moreover, China became the world’s largest wheat importer with the June World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) putting Chinese wheat imports at a record 14.0 MMT.

Bar chart compares U.S. wheat sales to top 10 customers in marketing year 2022/23 to MY 2021/22 indicating Mexico, Philippines, Japan, South Korea were among the top importers.

Mexico, the Philippines, Japan, and South Korea have been consistently among the top five U.S. wheat importers. In 2022/23, China became the world’s largest wheat importer, surpassing Taiwan to claim the fifth-place spot among U.S. wheat importers. Source: USW Commercial Sales Report/USDA Export Sales Data.

Hard red winter (HRW) wheat sales were 32% behind 2021/22, a function of high prices driven by drought and exacerbated by the war risks. Hard red spring (HRS) sales were up 4% following the drought in 2021/22 that severely diminished the crop and put exports at their lowest level since 2008/09. Soft red winter (SRW) sales were nearly even with the year prior and 9% above the five-year average as SRW remained competitive on the global market. Following drought-stressed production in 2021/22, white wheat exports were up 35% at 4.5 MMT and tracking SRW trends. Durum sales were up 109% due to improved production increased sales to Algeria and the European Union.

Bar chart compares U.S. wheat by-class sales in marketing year 2023/24 to the same date in MY 2021/22.

Some classes saw improved export sales year-over-year despite an overall reduction in demand. HRW wheat sales were 32% behind 2021/22, HRS was up 4%, SRW was nearly even with the year prior, white wheat was up 35% and durum was up 109%. Source: USW Commercial Sales Report/USDA Export Sales Data.

MY 2023/24 to Date

Demand has been relatively light so far in MY 2023/24 as many buyers delay purchasing decisions for more concrete information about the upcoming harvest and price fundamentals. Adding optimism for importers are recent rains in the U.S. Plains that have helped boost winter wheat crop ratings and rapid planting progress in HRS production areas.

Overall, U.S. wheat commercial sales are down 18% from last year’s pace at 3.9 MMT. Even so, customers in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan are ahead of their 2022/23 pace, and SRW commitments have surpassed last year’s level by 18% given its competitive price advantage.

USW Commercial Sales Report comparing export sales to specific countries in marketing year 2023/24.

Year-to-date marketing year 2023/24 commercial sales total 3.9 MMT, down 18% from the year prior. Meanwhile, purchases in Japan are 2% ahead of last year, South Korea up 5% and Taiwan up 75%. Vietnam, Guatemala, Ecuador, and Peru have also surpassed last year’s pace, highlighting how the market sentiment has shifted from a year ago. Source: USW Commercial Sales Report/USDA Export Sales Data.

New 2023/24 Estimates

Meanwhile, the June WASDE released on June 9 reported significant increases in world production estimates and ending stocks; however, the increases were unsurprising, leaving futures prices little changed.

World wheat production increased 10.4 MMT from the May estimates to 800.2 MMT on improved output in Russia, India, and the EU. World consumption increased by 4.4 MMT to 796.1 MMT, accounting for increased feed use in China, Russia, and India. Ending stocks increased to 270.7 MMT due to large projected stocks in India, Russia, and the EU. The estimates were also subdued on the domestic front, raising production by 100,000 MT, and increasing ending stocks by 200,000 MT with no other changes to the U.S. balance sheet.

Keep Up To Date

Though it is still very early in MY 2023/24, analyzing past trends and the monthly supply and demand updates helps provide context to aid purchasing decisions. Compared to this time last year, many influences have turned to favor wheat importers, though the war in Ukraine and weather patterns throughout the global wheat growing region add underlying risk. With risk still ever present, information is vital for planning and executing purchases. You can stay current on the latest reports via the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Wheat Associates weekly Commercial Sales and Price Reports.

By U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Market Analyst Tyllor Ledford


In March, U.S. Representatives Dan Newhouse (R-WA) and Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA) introduced the Northwest Energy Security Act to protect four lower Snake River Dams. Senators Jim Risch (ID) and Steve Daines (MT) introduced a companion bill in the Senate. While the legislation focuses mainly on the benefits of hydroelectric power, protecting the lock and dam system will also preserve efficient barge delivery of U.S. wheat to export elevators in the Pacific Northwest.

These members of Congress and Pacific Northwest wheat leaders provided the following comments about the effort to protect Snake River dams.

Region Cannot Afford to Lose Dams

“The four lower Snake River Dams are integral to flood control, navigation, irrigation, agriculture, and recreation in Central Washington and throughout the Pacific Northwest—to put it simply, we cannot afford to lose them,” said Rep. Newhouse. He also expressed concern regarding the amount of non-scientific information being used to mislead people regarding the dams.

“A comprehensive, scientific process made clear dam breaching on the lower Snake River is completely unnecessary and unwarranted,” said Senator Risch. “With the Northwest Energy Security Act, Congress will ensure the Columbia River Power System continues to provide reliable and clean energy and supports the region’s transportation, agriculture, and irrigation needs.”

River Transportation Essential for Wheat

Grain barge navigation on the Columbia Snake River System is an essential part of a logistical web that moves over half of all U.S. wheat exports to more than 20 Pacific Rim countries including some of the largest U.S. wheat buyers in the world. The Snake River moves more than 10% of all wheat that is exported from the United States. Barging is also the most environmentally sound and efficient mode of transportation in the region, benefiting farmers and overseas buyers by helping keep export basis lower.

This is why U.S. Wheat Associates (USW), state wheat commissions, the National Association of Wheat Growers and state wheat associations strongly support the sustainability and reliability of wheat transportation by barge.

Map of the Columbia Snake River System from Pacific Northwest Waterways Association

Eight Steps Down. Lock and dam systems on the Columbia Snake River System allow barges to efficiently and safely navigate the 222-meter elevation change from Lewiston, Idaho, to export elevators as far west as Longview, Wash.

“The Washington Grain Commission supports continued efforts to maintain the Snake River dams as an essential piece of the larger Columbia River System,” said WGC CEO Casey Chumrau. “Washington farmers rely on the river system to transport more than half of the state’s wheat and access overseas export markets. Barging is the most environmentally sound and economically viable mode of transportation in the region and critical to the competitiveness of Washington farmers.”

“The importance of the four lower Snake River dams to our region’s farmers and rural communities for both transportation and energy production cannot be overstated,” said Bryan Searle, president of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation. “The science is clear that salmon and dams can co-exist, and therefore we support the Northwest Energy Security Act. The members of the Idaho Farm Bureau Federation thank the sponsors of the bill.”

“The Snake River dams are vital to Washington’s wheat growers,” said Michelle Hennings, executive director of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers. “Scientific evidence conducted by the U.S. government has proven that removing the Snake River dams goes against environmental statutes and public interests. Washington wheat growers support any efforts that ensure the dams continue to operate as an integral part of the Columbia River System.”  


Farmers who spent the past year staring at charts and graphs that gauge costs and returns would certainly by now be quite familiar with the sensation of vertigo.

Up and down, down and up.

The proper term is “volatility,” and for those who make a living growing wheat and other crops, it can affect decisions made in spring – a time when farmers typically spend a lot of money on the front end of one crop while also waiting for the rear end on another.

As they arrive at that sensitive juncture in 2023, growers are finding a “mixed bag” compared to 2022. Analysis have revealed that most farmers are projecting their 2023 production costs to increase 6% to 15% compared to 2022. USDA’s most recent Farm Sector Forecast is slightly more optimistic, but still points to the expectation of higher input costs:

  • Production expenses are forecast to increase for a sixth consecutive year, growing in 2023 by 4.1%.
  • Fertilizers, lime and soil conditioners are expected to decrease 3%, from $43.42 billion to $42.17 billion. Typically, fertilizers represent about 15% of a crop farmer’s costs.
  • Fuels and oils are expected to experience the largest percent decline – 17% – from 2022.
  • These drops, however, are easily outpaced by increases in other expense categories including marketing, storage and transportation, which are forecast to increase 11%.

“Input costs are still quite elevated, but nitrogen fertilizer has decreased since its peak last year,” confirmed Jason Scott, a U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Board of Directors member who grows soft red winter (SRW) wheat on the eastern shore of Maryland. “One of the larger issues we have been dealing with so far this year is availability of some specific inputs, as well as some parts for equipment.”

Indeed, national agriculture groups say input costs are once again the top concern among farmers in 2023, though there has been some “wiggling toward the positive” in recent months.

“Higher input costs remain the number one concern, chosen by 34% of producers in March, but concern about input costs has been falling since last summer’s peak when it was chosen by 53% of producers,” James Mintert, the Purdue University/CME Group Ag Economy Barometer principal investigator, noted in the most recent Barometer, which was released April 4. “Although producers still cite high input costs as their top concern in the upcoming year, they are becoming more worried about rising interest rates and the impact those higher rates will have on their operations.

Michael Peters, who farms in central Oklahoma, inspects an emerging hard red winter wheat crop.

USW Vice Chairman Michael Peters, who farms in central Oklahoma, inspects an emerging hard red winter wheat crop a few years ago. As was the case back then, production input costs continue to be a major concern for wheat farmers all across the country. Weather and lack of rain, of course, is another point of worry.

But First, Here’s the Weather . . .

USW Vice Chairman Michael Peters, who grows hard red winter (HRW) wheat in Oklahoma, is the farmer who put the “mixed bag” label on his current inputs situation.

He has bigger problems with moisture, or lack thereof.

His farm being located on the Southern Plains, Peters has an added challenge he and other Oklahomans share with fellow producers in northern Texas, most of western Kansas and portions of Nebraska and Colorado.

“The problem for my area is the lack of rainfall,” he said. “Our winter wheat crop is looking a little tough at this point.”

According to USDA, approximately 51% of U.S. winter wheat is produced in an area currently experiencing drought, down from 69% as the year began.

For Oklahoma, in mid-March the USDA rated 34% of the winter wheat crop in “good-to-excellent” condition. For Texas, 18% of the crop was “good-to-excellent.” Roughly 22% of Nebraska’s winter wheat crop was “good-to-excellent.”

Equipment Inputs Rise

While fertilizer and chemical prices have mostly decreased heading into the 2023 spring planting season, sticker shock on parts and machinery have stepped in to replace them as causes for consternation.

“The prices for parts to fix our equipment have really spiked, as have prices for equipment that we would need to purchase new,” said Scott. “The supply chain has still not caught up on some key things.”

Part of the problem being recognized this spring is that there is a transition of sorts in the farming equipment arena. Fixing a broken-down combine or tractor used to take wrenches and a steady hand. Now repairs might require a mobile-device interface, online diagnostic tools and secure software updates. Those “parts” aren’t just hanging on someone’s wall.

As a result, breakdowns that might have been repaired in hours can now take days or weeks. During busy times such as spring planting and harvest, that can mean losing time and money.

“You really think about what you need to get you through the season and what you can do without,” said Peters. “There’s a lot of deferred maintenance on farms right now. When you see elevator prices seep down, you erase projects off your list. If prices start to spike, you add things to the list.”

Jason Scott, who grows soft red winter wheat in Maryland, stands in one of his fields during a spring tour of his farm.

Jason Scott, a member of the USW Board of Directors who grows soft red winter wheat in Maryland, stands in one of his wheat fields during a spring tour of his farm.

Chemicals Leveling Off

“It’s this and that, up and down,” said Peters. “Some fertilizer prices have fallen. Chemicals are mixed, with prices on products like Roundup falling substantially. Other chemicals seem steady.”

Farmers Business Network (FBN) recently released its 2023 Ag Chemical Price Transparency Report, which highlights the extreme price variation facing farmers from coast to coast.

“The last two years have seen extreme fluctuations in chemical pricing for farmers,” said Kevin McNew, chief economist for FBN. “We know, this season in particular, a lot of farmers have postponed or waited a little longer than normal to make purchases because prices have been declining. We’re close to the point of needing those pre-emergents and I don’t think prices are going to slide much more.”

McNew also acknowledges higher interest rates make some farmers hesitant to borrow against an operating loan for chemical purchases.

“The takeaway is a lot of the inputs we’ve come to rely on like fertilizer, ag chem, and energy are going to remain high priced for the foreseeable future,” he said. “For years to come, in some sense. It is really important for farmers to think strategically about investing in new technologies that improve or reduce those inputs.”

The Bottom Line

Enduring volatility is what farmers do, so those preparing to harvest winter wheat and those getting ready to plant spring wheat will adjust to conditions.

It won’t be long until fall arrives and the process repeats itself.

As far as profits, every farm is different. USDA expects inflation-adjusted net farm income to drop 18%. But it notes last year’s net farm income was well above the 20-year average.

The decline will be felt a little differently in each sector of agriculture, said Seth Meyer, the USDA’s chief economist, who spoke at the 2023 Agricultural Outlook Forum in Arlington, Virginia.

Wheat acreage is expected to be its largest since the 2016-17 season, thanks to high prices and tight supply.

“After a period of trending lower (U.S.) wheat acres, this represents a sharp rebound, but is not likely to be a trend reversal for the long term,” Meyer said.

As always the biggest question about 2023 is grain prices, especially wheat prices, which are expected to remain strong, though lower than in 2022.

From a wheat farmer’s perspective, Peters summed it up in a simple manner.

“No matter who you listen to, everything is up and down, up and down,” he said.


For six or seven seconds Monday afternoon, a group of wheat farmers from Idaho were able to imagine pushing 15,000 metric tons of wheat up the river. Maybe the wheat had been harvested in Idaho, or maybe it came from Washington or Oregon or Montana or even the Dakotas. Regardless, the imaginary barges under their control – the tugboat they each got to pilot was real, the barges not so much – were filled with U.S. wheat destined to be loaded on a ship headed for an export market.

The tugboat “driving lesson” was part of the Wheat Export and Marketing Workshop, an annual educational seminar and tour sponsored by the Idaho Wheat Commission and anchored at the Wheat Marketing Center in Portland, Oregon.

Here’s a brief video from the first day of the 3-day workshop: