Soybeans are leading the way in exports for Southeast Missouri

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Growing demand for U.S. commodities in developing countries is creating a new golden age of agriculture for Southeast Missouri farmers.

Soybeans are leading the way when it comes to exports in Missouri, with $1.39 billion of them exported in 2010. Missouri was the tenth-largest exporter among all states in 2010.

The past year was on par with 2010 numbers, said Veronica Nigh, economist with the American Farm Bureau Federation in Washington, D.C., and a Missouri native.

"U.S. agriculture is one of few areas that consistently has a positive trade balance," Nigh said. Trade totals for 2011 won't be available until about June, she said.

"In 2010, we were almost 34 billion on the plus side, so that's something folks are pretty proud of," she said.

With Southeast Missouri farmers having easy port access along the Mississippi River, most of what is grown here is shipped on barge to New Orleans and from there around the globe, said Anthony Ohmes, regional agronomy specialist with the University of Missouri Extension Center.

Crops grown in Missouri's Bootheel make up about 40 percent of the state's total agriculture production, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture data.

"The global market plays a very critical role," Ohmes said. "Our growers market to elevators here locally, but the price they are getting is based on the demand for that particular commodity worldwide. The growers definitely pay attention to the world market."

Cotton yields were up in 2011 in Missouri by 63 pounds per acre at 1,131 pounds per acre, according to USDA. It was also a good year for Missouri rice, which was up 720 pounds per acre at 7,200 pounds per acre.

Missouri corn and soybeans had a tough year in 2011, both with average yields lower than 2010, according to USDA.

About half of all U.S. soybeans are exported and of those exported about 80 percent go to China, Nigh said.

Among other crops, Missouri is the seventh-largest cotton exporter, fifth-largest rice exporter, ninth-largest live animal and meat exporter and 11th-largest corn and feed grain exporter, according to USDA.

While there isn't much of a textile industry left here, there is growing demand overseas from the textile industry for U.S. cotton, Ohmes said, due to its tensile strength, higher than cotton grown in India.

"Most U.S. cotton is going out of the country and then being brought back in as a finished product," Ohmes said.

China in the largest consumer of U.S. agriculture exports, purchasing $17.5 billion of them in 2010, according to the USDA.

Canada is the U.S.'s second-largest consumer of ag exports, followed by Mexico and Japan.

"Historically, your trading partners have been countries like Japan and the European Union countries, but what we've really seen in the last five to 10 years -- what's driving the export growth -- is growth in developing countries," Nigh said.

Developing countries rounding out the top 10 in 2010 included Taiwan, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Egypt and Turkey.

"You tend to see more supermarket purchases in urban areas, so as countries become more and more urbanly populated, their demand for imported food products will grow," Nigh said.

Export markets also help farmers get more value out of their products For example, beef hearts have little value in the U.S., but they are a delicacy in some foreign markets. Chicken feet have almost no value domestically, but they are one of the most commonly consumed products in China, Nigh said.

The Farm Bureau estimates that about 36 percent of U.S. farm income is derived from exports, Nigh said.

This past year, commodity prices hit all-time highs and agricultural land values surged, contributing to rising farm incomes.

Nigh believes that while other "golden eras of agriculture" were soon tarnished as market conditions changed, the current one is different.

During the 1970s surging exports triggered a similar spike in land values and farm income, but what's driving exports now is much different from what it was in 1970, Nigh said.

"These exports were very much bulk commodity driven by countries with huge losses in their own domestic production," Nigh said. "This time, increases are due to rising incomes in other countries and changing personal preferences, not because there are food security issues going on. I don't think we will see a retreat in export potential like we have in the past."

mmiller@semissourian.com

388-3646

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