WASHINGTON, Aug. 27, 2015 – Agriculture exports for fiscal year 2016 are projected at $138.5 billion, down $1 billion from the revised $139.5 billion for the current year, USDA said today in a report.

Despite the expected decline, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a release that “the strong pace of American agricultural exports continues,” noting that FY 2015 and 2016 are forecast to be the third- and fourth-highest on record, respectively. FY 2016 starts Oct. 1.

Bulk export volumes are expected to rise in FY 2016 and reach near-record levels, and horticultural and livestock-product exports are also expected to be higher, Vilsack said in a release.

USDA said the decline in overall export value in the next fiscal year is primarily due to oilseeds and their products, which are seen down $4.4 billion as a result of lower expected soybean and soybean meal prices and reduced export volumes.

Grain and feed exports are forecast to be up $1.1 billion from fiscal 2015, largely due to higher expected wheat shipments. Cotton exports are forecast down $400 million due to a smaller U.S. crop, USDA said.

Exports of livestock, poultry, and dairy products are up $600 million in FY 2016 from this year as higher export volumes for a number of livestock products more than offset a decline in prices. Horticultural exports are forecast up $2 billion to a record $36.5 billion with higher export values for fresh and processed fruits and vegetables, as well as tree nuts. Agricultural exports to China are forecast down $2 billion from fiscal 2015, primarily due to lower soybean values. Canada is expected to return as the largest U.S. export market for the first time since 2010.

U.S. agricultural imports in 2016 are forecast at a record $122.5 billion, $7.0 billion higher than fiscal 2015. Increases in import values are expected for most products in 2016, with the largest gains in horticultural, and sugar and tropical products. The U.S. agricultural trade surplus is expected to fall by $8 billion in fiscal 2016 to $16 billion. This would be the smallest surplus since 2007.

For fiscal 2015, the forecast of $139.5 billion for exports is down $1 billion from the previous quarter’s forecast. Imports are down $1.5 from the previous quarter to $115.5 billion.

"Today's forecast provides a snapshot of a rural America that continues to remain stable in the face of the worst animal disease outbreak in our nation's history and while the Western U.S. remains gripped by drought,” Vilsack said, referring to the avian influenza outbreak that decimated poultry flocks this spring and summer, especially in the Midwest. “Thanks to the resilience of our farmers and ranchers, fiscal years 2009 to 2015 represent the strongest seven years in history for U.S. agricultural trade, with U.S. agricultural product exports totaling more than $911 billion.

Vilsack said he expects new trade agreements, currently being negotiated with Pacific Rim nations and the European Union, will help U.S. farmers and ranchers better reach the 95 percent of consumers who live outside America’s borders.

“USDA will continue to fight to get the best trade deals for farmers and ranchers that open new markets and new customers to them,” he said. “Expanded trade strengthens the agricultural economy, supports more than one million good paying American jobs, and helps to preserve the rural way of life."

Other highlights from today’s report include:

-Grain and feed exports for FY 2016 are forecast at $32.4 billion, up $1.1 billion from the 2015 forecast, driven by higher grain volume despite mostly lower prices. Wheat is forecast at $6.7 billion, up $800 million, as greater volume more than offsets lower unit values.

-Corn will be up fractionally next year to $8.6 billion and sorghum is nearly unchanged at $2.1 billion.

-Rice exports are forecast to rise $100 million to $2 billion due to a slight increase in export unit value, offsetting a marginal decline in volume.

-FY 2016 exports for oilseeds and products are projected at $26.7 billion, down $4.4 billion from the 2015 estimate, driven by lower prices and reduced export volumes. Lower unit values are in response to record global soybean supplies and growing U.S. ending stocks. Prices are further pressured by a strengthening dollar, which is expected to reduce competitiveness in export markets and lead to declines in both soybean and soybean meal exports. Soybean export value is forecast to drop $3.2 billion to $18.1 billion while soybean meal is projected $1.0 billion lower at $4.0 billion.