April U.S. Export Volume Can’t Match Record 2018 Sales

Year-to-date pace is still the third-best ever.  

U.S. exports in April were on par with their pace of recent months, though they fell short of last April’s record-high volumes.

Overall, suppliers shipped 169,072 tons of milk powders, cheese, butterfat, whey products, and lactose in April, about the same as the monthly average for the previous 10 months. However, this figure was off 22% from the all-time high volume of April 2018. Total U.S. exports were worth $498.1 million, down 5%, year-over-year.

Chart for April Stats (2)

In the first four months of the year, overall volume is on track for the third-best year ever, only trailing the pace of 2018 and 2014. U.S. exports value is up for the third straight year and represents the highest total since 2015.

Overall performance continues to be dragged down by lost sales to China due to retaliatory tariffs in place since last summer and further compounded by African swine fever’s devastating impact on China’s swine herd. In April, U.S. exports of milk powders, cheese, butterfat, whey products and lactose to China were down 64% from a year ago—a loss of 27,000 tons of product sales.

Cheese has been one of the bright spots this year, with exports up 7% year-to-date and running at a five-year high. In April, volume was 32,434 tons, down 1%. Sales to Mexico were improved—the most in 10 months—while shipments to South Korea and Japan combined were up 9%, and exports to the Middle East/North Africa (MENA) region were up 42%. However, this was offset by lighter sales to China, Southeast Asia and Australia compared with a year ago.

Exports of whey protein isolates (WPI) and fluid milk/cream also are running at record highs this year, up 18% and 15%, respectively. Shipments of milk protein concentrate (MPC) also are up 18% this year, on top of the 40% increase posted last year.

Chart for April Stats2 (2)

Key ingredient categories, however, are lagging the strong comparable figures from a year ago.

Exports of NDM/SMP were 56,671 tons in April, down 25% from last year’s record-high level. Sales to Mexico, Southeast Asia (notably Indonesia and Malaysia), China and Pakistan were all significantly lower.

(USDEC has adjusted official U.S. Bureau of Census trade data for NDM/SMP and WMP since June 2016 to account for shipments we believe are misclassified.)



Total U.S. whey exports were 37,238 tons, down 31% from last year. Shipments to China were just 7,122 tons, down 70%, and the lowest monthly volume in nearly nine years. Sales to Japan also continued to struggle, down 44% in April, and down 27% year-to-date. Bright spots included South Korea and Canada, both of which increased volume by 31% in April. But these and other markets weren’t enough to make up for the China shortfall.

Lactose exports were 31,106 tons in April, down 18%. Volumes to China were off 34% from the record high purchases of last April. Exports to New Zealand were down by half, and shipments to Mexico were off by a third. In contrast, exports to Southeast Asia remained solid, up 4% year-over-year.



In April, whole milk powder (WMP) exports were just half of year-ago levels, while butterfat shipments (-71%, with a huge drop in sales to Mexico) were the lowest monthly volume in more than two years (on a daily-average basis). In addition, exports of food preparations (blends), were down 10%, and the year-to-date pace is the lowest since 2003.

On a total milk solids basis, U.S. exports were equivalent to 14.4% of U.S. milk solids production in April. During the first four months of the year, exports were equivalent to 14.1% of production, compared with an average of 14.7% from 2014-18.

To use interactive charts with current and historical trade data, see usdec.org’s page on U.S. export data.

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