Dairy Outlook: 17% of U.S. milk was exported last year.
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TOP MARKETS: The top five U.S. dairy export markets in 2021 were Mexico, Southeast Asia, Canada, China and South America.

The U.S. experienced record growth in dairy exports in 2021, which has helped boost milk prices paid to farmers above $20. Export volume in 2021 was equivalent to more than 17% of U.S. milk produced in 2020, also an all-time high, according to USDA.

U.S. dairy export volume last year increased 10% over 2020 to more than 2.3 million metric tons of milk solid equivalent. The value rose 18% to $7.75 billion.

Exports may have reached even higher levels had U.S. exporters not been battered by supply chain challenges that drove up costs and complexity of delivering dairy products to foreign customers.

Next frontier

According to Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of the National Milk Producers Federation, record demand for U.S. milk overseas is a testament to the hard work and dedication of U.S. dairy farmers and the entire industry.

“Exports represent the next frontier for U.S. dairy. It’s gratifying to see decades of effort bear fruit, and it makes us more excited about the future successes ahead,” he says.

This tremendous growth, which came despite an ongoing pandemic and global supply chain challenges, continues a long-term upward trajectory, which reflects the industry’s investments and unwavering commitment to export customers.

Here are some of 2021’s highlights:

Fab five. The top five export markets in 2021 were Mexico, Southeast Asia, Canada, China and South America. The Middle East and North Africa region, South Korea, Japan, Central America and Australia with New Zealand round out the top 10. Double-digit shipment value gains were recorded in nine of these top 10 destinations — the lone exception being a 6% decrease to Australia and New Zealand.

For the record. The United States set annual export records in cheese, nonfat dry milk and skim milk powder, whey, lactose, and fluid milk and cream. For the first time, U.S. cheese shipments topped 400,000 metric tons and whey surpassed 600,000 metric tons. Nonfat dry milk fell just shy of 900,000 metric tons.

Southern neighbor. Mexico accounted for more than a quarter of total U.S. cheese exports in 2021 and 38% of U.S. nonfat dry milk shipments. U.S. cheese sales to Mexico set a record, rising 13% and exceeding 100,000 metric tons for the first time. U.S. nonfat dry milk sales to Mexico jumped 18% to 337,846 metric tons, second highest in history.

Southeast Asia No. 2. The U.S. shipped nearly $1.4 billion worth of products to Southeast Asia in 2021, an increase of 11% over the previous year. Southeast Asia accounted for 36% of U.S. nonfat dry milk exports, running a close second to Mexico.

Whey way up. U.S. whey exports grew 10% to 613,944 metric tons last year, driven primarily by China, which accounted for 44% of total whey volume. Vietnam, South Korea and Mexico recorded strong double-digit increases as well.

El queso. U.S. cheese exports jumped 14% in 2021 to 404,675 metric tons, led by strong demand from Latin America. Shipments to Central America soared 53%, and the additional 12,117 metric tons U.S. suppliers shipped there last year represents the largest cheese export gain to any major market. Exports to South America jumped 33%, while shipments to Mexico grew 13%.

Movement to MENA. Total U.S. exports to the Middle East and North Africa, or MENA, soared in 2021 across product categories: butterfat up 154%, cheese up 39%, nonfat dry milk up 51% and whey products up 20%.

A shot in the arm

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack believes record dairy exports are a shot in the arm for dairy farmers and the economy as well.

“This is a major boost for the economy as a whole, and particularly for our rural communities, with exports stimulating local economic activity, helping maintain our competitive edge globally and supporting producers’ bottom lines,” Vilsack said.

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