The Department of Agriculture's Economic Research Service is now forecasting an even higher record-breaking year for U.S. agricultural exports in fiscal year 2021.

The agency on Wednesday raised its forecast for U.S. ag exports to $164 billion, a $7-billion increase from the ERS February forecast of $157 billion, which also would have been a record-setting amount. The U.S. exported some $135.7 billion worth of ag commodities in fiscal 2020.

A big factor behind the new increase is China’s substantial corn imports, but strong demand from China and elsewhere for U.S. soybeans, beef, pork, poultry, dairy and tree nuts are also boosting U.S. exports, according to the new ERS analysis.

The ERS, due to “record volume and higher unit values, driven by strong demand and reduced competition,” raised its prediction for U.S. corn exports by $3.5 billion, bringing the new forecast to $17.2 billion for fiscal 2021.

China has already purchased roughly 23 million metric tons of U.S. corn for 2020-21 delivery, according to USDA data.

“Exports for China are raised $3.5 billion from the February forecast to a record $35.0 billion due to record shipments of soybeans, corn, tree nuts, beef, wheat, and poultry products,” according to the ERS analysis. “China is forecast to remain the largest market for U.S. agricultural exports in FY 2021, followed by Canada and Mexico.”

It’s not just strong corn exports that boosting the U.S. balance sheet. U.S. farmers are also expected to export a lot of sorghum, and Chinese demand is again the main driver. The ERS on Wednesday raised its prediction for sorghum exports in FY 2021 to $2.4 billion, a $300-million increase.

China is not just hungry for grains and oilseeds to feed its livestock, ERS says the country is also importing substantial supplies of beef, pork and poultry. The agency raised its forecasts for overall U.S. pork exports to $7.2 billion, overall U.S. beef exports to $7.6 billion and overall poultry exports to $5.5 billion.

Chinese consumer demand for a product that’s virtually absent from grocery stores in the U.S. — chicken paws — is helping push up U.S. poultry export numbers.

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“Six months into the fiscal year, U.S. shipments of soybeans, corn, tree nuts, beef, wheat, and chicken paws have remained at record levels, while total U.S. agricultural exports to China reached $22.2 billion, 179 percent higher than the same period last year,” according to the ERS report.

ERS also increased its forecast for U.S. imports, but the forecasted trade surplus remains strong — the highest since 2015. The ERS is now predicting the U.S. will import $141.8 billion worth of ag commodities in FY 2021. That’s an increase from the agency’s February prediction of $137.5 billion.

The new forecast is calling for a trade surplus of $22.2 billion in FY 2021. The surplus in FY 2020 was just $2.5 billion.

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