WASHINGTON, DC, US — Total grain exports for the United States reached nearly 101 million tonnes, equivalent to 3.97 billion bushels, in the 2019-20 marketing year, according to data from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) and analysis by the US Grains Council (USGC) released on Oct. 8.

While the export total declined 5% year over year, grain in all forms (GIAF) exports still represented the fifth highest yearly total on record.

The USGC said tracking GIAF exports provides a more “holistic view” of the feed grains produced by US farmers and consumed by overseas customers than sales of one grain product alone. To do so, the Council review exports across 10 product sectors, including raw grain exports of US corn, barley and sorghum, and value-added products including ethanol, distiller’s dried grains with solubles and other co-products as well as the corn equivalent of exported meat products.

“There is no other way to frame it. The last marketing year was extremely difficult,” said Ryan LeGrand, USGC president and chief executive officer. “Our corn crop faced serious problems during planting, the growing season and harvest but the resiliency and forward-looking approach of the US farmer remained ever present.

“Feed grain exports started slowly but the last half of the year saw a rapid surge in sales and shipments, providing a strong finish to the 2019-20 marketing year. As we move into 2020-21, the Council is encouraged by the near-record sales happening already in the current marketing year.”

US corn exports represented the largest percentage decline in 2019-20, down 14% year over year due to competitive South American supplies. Exports for the year totaled 45.1 million tons (1.78 billion bushels). Mexico retained its position as the top market for US corn at 14.5 million tons (571 million bushels), down 10% year over year.

Notably, Colombia increased imports slightly to 4.91 million tons, (193 million bushels). China skyrocketed into the top five US corn buyers at 2.09 million tons (82.2 million bushels), a dramatic increased from 259,000 tons (11.6 million bushels) the year prior.

The outbreak of COVID-19 reduced US ethanol production and global demand for fuel ethanol. However, thanks to a surge in demand for industrial uses like sanitizer, ethanol exports ended the year at 1.36 billion gallons (482 million bushels in corn equivalent), down 12% year over year. Exports to Brazil also saw a substantial decline of nearly 30% year over year to 263 million gallons (99.3 million bushels in corn equivalent). As a result, Canada claimed the top market slot at 321 million gallons (114 million bushels in corn equivalent.

Reduced production from US ethanol plants in spring and summer 2020 had a ripple effect on the availability and prices of US DDGS. As a result, US DDGS exports ended the year down 6.6% at 10.5 million tons. Mexico remained the top buyer, although imports of 1.8 million tons represented an 11% decline year over year.

By contrast, several top buyers of US DDGS saw increases from the previous year, including South Korea, Thailand, Turkey, Japan, the Philippines and New Zealand.

US exports of barley and barley products also declined 7.5% year over year to 493,000 tons (22.6 million bushels). Mexico was the top buyer at 350,000 tons (16.1 million bushels), down year over year due to COVID-19 restrictions that limited beer production during summer 2020.

Exports to Mexico also increased 21.5% to 594,000 tons (23.4 million bushels), and smaller buyers like Japan also saw significant increases.

The 2020-21 marketing year officially began on Sept. 1, 2020, with the first month of USDA export data to be released in November.