Exports have long been a critical factor in the demand for U.S. crops. This is especially true for wheat and soybeans where about 40 percent of total production moves into export markets.
The U.S. typically exports about 1 billion bushels of wheat per year. While export levels vary significantly year-to-year, there really is no discernable upward trend. In recent years, export levels have been extremely variable. In most cases, the U.S. is the supplier of last resort so our export level is closely linked to production in other major exporting countries.
World wheat demand is not very variable and the growth in demand has accelerated in recent years. With the increases in demand world wheat trade has increased, from about 105 million tonnes in the second half of the 1990s to 108 million tonnes in the first half of the 2000s, to 126 million tonnes in the second half of the last decade.
World wheat trade this year is forecast at a record high 138.7 million tonnes. While world wheat trade has increased, U.S. wheat exports have not. U.S. wheat exports averaged 29.4 million tonnes in the late 1990s, 27.7 million in the early 2000s and 28.8 million in the late 2000s.
Exports this year are expected to be at a relatively low level of 25.2 million tonnes, the fourth lowest level in the last 17 years. The U.S. share of world wheat trade has declined significantly since 1995. Our share of world markets was above 28 percent in the second half of the 1990s compared to 23 percent in the most recent period and just 18 percent for this year. The emergence of the former Soviet Union countries as major wheat exporters has contributed to the decline in the U.S. share of world wheat markets in recent years.