The U.S. exported $26.4 billion worth of agricultural goods to China in calendar year 2020, setting a new record, according to the latest USDA trade numbers that came out Friday.

That total is higher — roughly $29 billion — if other ag-related products like seafood, ethanol and forestry goods are included. Those are products not tallied by USDA in its ag trade data, but they are included in the “phase one” deal between the U.S. and China.

Either way, the total falls below what China promised to purchase under the “phase one” deal it implemented with the U.S. in February 2020. Trump administration officials had warned last year that the goal set in the pact would not likely be reached because of shipping delays and other problems associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.

China pledged to buy and take delivery of $36.5 billion worth of U.S. ag goods by Dec. 31, but American Farm Bureau Federation Chief Economist John Newton said that total should translate to $31.025 billion after subtracting freight and insurance. 

Another record set was U.S. beef exports to China. The U.S. and China reached a deal to end the Chinese ban on U.S. beef in 2017, but it wasn’t until 2020 that China’s imports began rising sharply.

China imported $282 million worth of beef in 2020, but most of that trade has taken place since March 17, when China followed through with some of its promises under the trade pact. Total U.S. beef exports in 2020 surpassed 2019 exports by 231%.

Those promises by China under “phase one” included lifting its zero-tolerance for growth hormones and approving many new U.S. beef-producing and storage facilities to export to Chinese buyers.

China still has not agreed to accept beef from cattle that were fed the growth promotant ractopamine.

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China’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic also helped, says Joe Schuele, a spokesman for the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

“Once the market showed a consistent level of demand and China’s food service sector came out of the COVID restrictions sooner than most other markets, that helped get a response from the food chain,” he said.

U.S. soybean and corn exports to China did not break a calendar year record, but they came close. The U.S. exported $14.159 billion worth of soybeans to China in 2020, under the record $14.9 billion in 2012, according to USDA data.

U.S. corn exports in 2020 were valued at $1.2 billion. That’s a staggering 2,000% increase from calendar 2019, but just under the $1.3 billion in 2012.

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