Global economic performance and population growth drive demand for food and agricultural products, providing the foundation for agricultural trade and U.S. exports.

For more information, see the Agricultural Trade chapter in 

USDA Agricultural Projections to 2021

Agricultural exports have significant linkages to the nonfarm economy, particularly through their effects on employment and off-farm business activity. (For more information, see the articles on Effects of Trade on the U.S. Economy.)

Historically, bulk commodities—wheat, rice, coarse grains, oilseeds, cotton, and tobacco—accounted for most of U.S. agricultural exports. However, in the 1990s, U.S. exports of consumer-oriented products including high-value products (HVP)—such as dairy products, meats, poultry, live animals, oilseed meals, vegetable oils, fruits, vegetables, and beverages—showed steady growth, while exports of bulk commodities tended to fluctuate more widely, particularly in response to global supplies and prices.

As population and incomes rose worldwide in the 1990s, U.S. consumer-oriented agricultural exports including high-value products (HVP) expanded in response to demand for greater diversification of diets. (For more information, see U.S. exports of bulk and high-value products by fiscal or calendar year.)

In 2012 China became the leading U.S. agricultural export destination, replacing Canada. Other important destinations for U.S. agricultural exports include the European Union and Asia. The top 10 destinations for U.S. agricultural export has varied little since 1990, but Europe, which was the largest market in prior decades, has declined in importance as China, Canada, Mexico, Asia, and the rest of the Americas have risen. (For data on top export destinations, see Top 15 U.S. export destinations by fiscal or calendar year.)

Sources of Growth in U.S. Agricultural Exports

Since 1995, U.S. exports have expanded across bulk and high value product categories, with particularly strong growth among consumer-oriented products commodities. Middle-income countries have become the primary source of growth in U.S. agricultural exports, with U.S. agricultural exports to upper middle-income countries like China and Mexico surpassing those to high-income countries in 2011.

Middle-income countries now account for the largest share of U.S. agricultural exports of both bulk products and semi-processed high-value products (eg., wheat, soybeans, and soybean meal). In the other high-value product categories—raw products and processed products—high-income countries remain the largest U.S. markets, followed by the upper middle-income countries.

See interactive chart for data on the Evolution of U.S. Agricultural Exports since 1995.