US Soy Exporters Face Worst New-Crop Start in 23 Years Due to Lack of Chinese Demand

NAPERVILLE, Illinois, – The upcoming U.S. soybean harvest is expected to approach record levels, but exporters had sold practically none of it as of last week, a typical time when new-crop sales may start to roll in.

As of May 9, U.S. soybean export sales for the 2024-25 marketing year starting Sept. 1 had reached just 890,387 metric tons, a 19-year low for the date and almost two-thirds lower than a year ago.

However, those sales cover just 1.8% of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s initial 2024-25 U.S. export forecast, the smallest portion in 23 years, just before the 2001-02 season.

For reference, USDA sees 2024-25 U.S. soy exports about 70% higher than in 2001-02, but Brazilian soybean exports have increased more than sevenfold since then and Chinese imports more than tenfold. U.S. supplies accounted for 55% of global bean trade back then versus about 28% today.

China’s lack of interest in new-crop U.S. soybeans has become a sore spot for bean bulls. The top soy buyer had nothing on the books for 2024-25 as of last week, the first such instance in 19 years.

Some industry analysts fear President Joe Biden’s recent tariff escalation on Chinese goods could further harm the already-shaky U.S. grain and oilseed export program. Beijing has vowed retaliation, calling the U.S. move “bullying” on Wednesday.

Some 2024-25 Chinese bookings could be hiding behind the designation of unknown destination, though those amounted to a below-average 625,000 tons as of May 9, the date’s lowest in four years. USDA pegs total 2024-25 U.S. soybean exports at 49.7 million tons (1.825 billion bushels).

USDA on Wednesday reported a 60,000-ton new-crop soybean sale to unknown, packaged with a 120,000-ton old-crop sale. Soybean sales for 2023-24 have also been sluggish, as just 13% of the full-year target has been sold since Jan. 1, equal to last year’s pace but below the average of around 20%.

Brazil is at the height of its soybean export season, padding China’s supply and reducing its immediate needs for U.S. beans. China’s April soybean imports were record-high for the month, and above-average volumes are expected to continue in May and June.

USDA sees both 2024-25 U.S. soybean and corn exports up on the year, though the corn volume would be slightly above the recent five-year average while the bean one would be safely below.

But next year’s corn book is nothing to write home about, either. As of May 9, U.S. corn sales for 2024-25 stood at 2.3 million tons, a six-year low for the date and down 14% from a year ago.

The situation is worse relative to USDA’s full-year corn export projection, which was just 4.1% covered as of May 9, the date’s smallest portion in 14 years. But the share was below 5% on the same date in three of the last six years, including last year’s 4.4%, so corn’s predicament is not as bad as that of soybeans.

Additionally, USDA on Tuesday announced a new-crop U.S. corn sale to Mexico worth 270,000 tons, the largest daily corn sale since November.

Karen Braun is a market analyst for Reuters. Views expressed above are her own.

Source: Reuters