By Stephanie Bryant-Erdmann, USW Market Analyst
2016 ended on a high note for U.S. wheat exports, which posted the largest volume of sales in the fourth quarter since 2010. From October through December, the United States exported 6.5 million metric tons (MMT) of wheat, 48 percent above last year’s sales and 28 percent greater than the 5-year average. The strong export sales pace pushed total U.S. wheat exports to 20.9 MMT through Dec. 29, 7 percent ahead of the 5-year average and greater than total 2015/16 sales of 20.7 MMT.
Hard red winter (HRW) and hard red spring (HRS) are leading the charge. Year-to-date, HRW sales of 8.43 MMT are 24 percent ahead of the 5-year average and already greater than both 2015/16 and 2014/15 total sales. U.S. HRS sales are also 31 percent ahead of the 5-year average at 6.78 MMT and just shy of last year’s total 2015/16 sales of 6.91 MMT. These sales allowed the United States to regain the title of the largest single-country exporter in volume and value in a calendar year from Canada. According to USDA export sales data, U.S. wheat exports totaled 25.9 MMT, up 27 percent from CY 2015.
In CY 2015, Canada exported roughly 2.3 MMT more wheat than the United States and Russia, which nearly tied with a difference of less than 30,000 MT between them, based on Global Trade Atlas (GTA) data. The extra tonnage boosted the value of Canadian wheat exports to $6.23 billion compared to the U.S. wheat export value of $5.62 billion and the Russian value of $3.95 billion. In other words, despite the United States and Russia being virtually tied for the number two spot by tonnage in CY 2015, U.S. wheat exports earned 42 percent more dollars.
This year, the value comparison is even more interesting. GTA data shows U.S. wheat exports back on top from January to November with a value of $4.88 billion. For the same time period, GTA estimates Canadian wheat export value at $4.13 billion and Russian wheat export value at $3.32 billion.
While industry reports tend to focus on tonnage for grains, reports concerning other crops often refer to value of exports. While volume of exports reflects the drawdown of available stocks and infrastructure utilization, the value of exports reflects the relative financial return to the various exporting country economies as well as to producers and grain handlers. International Grains Council (IGC) data shows the export price of Canadian 13.5 percent protein (on a 13.5 percent moisture basis) spring wheat at Vancouver averaged $218/MT ($5.93/bu) in 2016, and Russian milling wheat averaged $179/MT ($4.87/bu). By comparison, U.S. hard red spring (HRS) 13.0 percent protein (on a 12.0 percent moisture basis) at the Pacific Northwest averaged $232/MT ($6.31/bu) in 2016.
With many of the world’s largest exporters producing record-large crops with lower than normal protein content this year, buyers around the world are looking for high-quality, higher protein wheat. As the fourth quarter sales show, the U.S. wheat store continues to supply customers with the wheat they need. Customers around the world see the value of U.S. wheat versus its competitors and rely on it to provide consistent high quality flour to their own customer demand.