We Might be Wary of China, But the Nation Is Now Largest Buyer from U.S. Farmers

After Trump’s trade war and agreement last year, China is once again the U.S.’s chief customer for agricultural goods.

Following a cease-fire between the world’s two largest economies last year, U.S. farmers are shipping record volumes of crops and meat across the Pacific. The surging agricultural exports are helping power a turnaround in the U.S. farm economy, lifting commodity prices and profits for agribusinesses, and fueling expectations that farmers will devote more land than ever for some crops.

U.S. agricultural exports to China in 2020 rose to 55.5 million tons and comprised one-quarter of all farm shipments, according to U.S. Agriculture Department data. China is now buying more farm goods than it did before the trade war, and U.S. agricultural officials expect Chinese demand to grow further.

The revival of trade relations is rippling across fields and barns throughout the U.S., buoying businesses that suffered as Chinese tariffs on U.S. goods such as soybeans and pork slashed exports and pressured prices.

U.S. farmers, industry groups and government officials hurried to woo buyers in markets beyond China, including Europe and Southeast Asia. Launching a project to make up for lost sales to China, soybean officials joined regional trade exchanges overseas and led prospective buyers on tours of U.S. farms and shipping infrastructure.

The U.S. and China signed a deal in January 2020 marking a truce in the trade war, with Beijing pledging to boost U.S. agricultural imports. China’s swift recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, and efforts to rebuild the country’s hog herd following a deadly swine disease, are further fueling China’s appetite for U.S. farm goods, agriculture executives and analysts said.

China’s race to fatten its hogs helped drive a 53% jump in U.S. soybean exports to the country last year compared with 2019, representing the second-highest volume on record and more than half of all soybean shipments, according to USDA. Corn exports soared more than 20-fold to a new high.

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