Although the United States produces only about 8 percent of world wheat (2006-2015 average), it continues to be one of the world's biggest wheat exporters. However, it lately ceded the dominant role in world wheat exports to the European Union, Canada, and Russia.
Since the early 1960s, U.S. wheat exports have fluctuated sharply. The trend was upward until 1981/82 (the international trade year for wheat is July-June), when exports reached a high of over 48 million metric tons, but then reversed, with exports falling to less than 23 million metric tons in 2002/03. The U.S. share of world wheat exports has fluctuated from a high of 50 percent in 1973/74 to 30-40 percent in 1982/83-1995/96, and between 20-30 percent in the next decade. Over the last decade, U.S. wheat exports have exceeded 30 million metric tons (MT) only three times, and while global wheat trade is expanding, the U.S share of global wheat exports is moving lower trending now at around 15 percent.
Increased planting flexibility in U.S. farm legislation and low returns relative to competing crops has led to a decline in U.S. wheat area, limiting export potential. Another cause of declining U.S exports in the last several years is appreciation of the U.S. dollar vis-à-vis other major world currencies. The higher value of the dollar increased the price of U.S. wheat compared to that produced by other countries, lowering U.S. exports and stimulating exports by other major wheat producers.
U.S. imports of wheat grain, mostly from Canada, are small (2-3 million metric tons), but have grown from less than a 0.1 million metric tons in the 1970s to an average of 2.5 million metric tons over the last 10 years. Imports of wheat products consist mainly of pasta and noodles from Canada, the European Union, and Asia.
Historical information on U.S. imports and exports is available from USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) at Global Agricultural Trade System (GATS).
A long-term perspective on projected U.S. wheat exports is available in the Market Outlook chapter. The pages provide further information on the supply-and-demand issues for wheat underlying USDA's Agricultural Baseline Projections, which provides 10-year projections for the U.S. and world agricultural sectors for selected commodities.
The United States is one of the world's leading wheat exporters. Since 2000 on average, the United States, EU, Canada, Australia, Argentina, and the former Soviet Union (including the three major wheat exporters of Russia, Ukraine, and Kazakhstan), account for about 90 percent of world wheat exports. In the past these exporters accounted for 95 percent of world wheat exports or even more, but the share of minor exporters (see “Others” on the chart below) continues to grow.
The diversity of exporting countries provides significant stability to world wheat trade and prices. Most of the world's wheat production is grown as winter wheat in the Northern Hemisphere, but Canada, Kazakhstan, Russia, and the United States have large spring wheat production, which is planted much later. Moreover, in the Southern Hemisphere, Australia and Argentina plant their winter wheat after the Northern Hemisphere's spring wheat. With wheat being planted and harvested at different times, countries can respond quickly to changing market conditions.
Rising population in various parts of the developing world combined with strong economic growth have increased demand for both food and feed wheat. After 2007/08 world wheat trade has been growing, and by 2015/16 increased by more than 40 percent, or almost 50 million tons, supported by the growing demand for wheat mainly by developing countries.
Wheat is a staple food in many low- and middle-income countries and, despite slightly declining per capita global use, rising population, especially in developing countries, has been a major driver behind increases in global demand for wheat. Most of these countries have limited ability to expand wheat production, which increases global wheat imports demand.
Increasing amounts of wheat are required to meet demand for both food and feed wheat in the countries of Sub-Saharan Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Sudan), North Africa (Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco), Middle East (Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria), South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Pakistan), South-East Asia (Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam), East Asia (China, Japan, and Korea), and South America (Brazil and Mexico).
The largest growth markets for wheat include Africa (both North—Egypt, Algeria, and Morocco and Sub-Saharan—Ethiopia, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Sudan) and the Middle East (Iran, Jordan, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, and Syria) as well as South-East Asia (Indonesia, Philippines, and Vietnam). Increased imports in Africa are driven by population growth, while in Asia income growth that encourages higher wheat feed as well as substitution of wheat for traditional rice and use boost imports.
Egypt remains the world’s largest wheat-importing country. Imports by Indonesia, which has the fastest growing wheat imports in Asia, are catching up and it has become the world’s second-largest wheat-importing country.
While a handful of nations dominate wheat exports, there are many wheat-importing countries. However, most wheat is imported by developing countries with limited production potential.
Data on world wheat Production, Supply, and Distribution (PS&D) are available from FAS for more than 200 countries back to 1960. More in-depth commodity trade information is available in ERS's data and outlook report on trade and FAS's Grain: World Markets and Trade. Current world wheat trade data are available in the World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE).