The USDA recently released a revised forecast for agricultural exports, predicting a record of $101 billion for fiscal year 2008, up $10 billion from November’s forecast. Ken Hobbie, U.S. Grains Council president and CEO, said the consecutive year-to-year record export levels since 2004 is attributable to many factors including natural calamities and a weaker dollar. However, Hobbie maintains that continuing market development and market defense also contributed significantly. “Some are under the impression that exports just happen and in all honesty, sometimes they do, but without strategic market development programs and defense efforts, exports would be in a very volatile position,” said Hobbie. “Building our trade partners’ livestock feeding capacity; developing trust; working with biotechnology regulators to ensure sound science is the foundation of regulations; and many more components go into sustaining and expanding demand for U.S. agricultural products.”

Hobbie said the presence of the U.S. Grains Council working hands on with end-users contributed to the USDA’s upward adjustment to the forecast. When announcing the revisions at the Agricultural Outlook Forum, Secretary Ed Schafer noted that the new levels are at an “unprecedented” $19 billion above those of 2007. A significant increase in feed grains exports buoyed the forecasts. Specifically, the forecast for coarse grain exports is raised to 70 million tons, up 2 million tons since November. Corn and sorghum exports are up $2.4 billion from November. Coarse grain exports are forecast at $14.1 billion, $4.3 billion above last year’s level.

While competitor exportable supplies of corn and other feed grains are limited because of severe drought conditions in many parts of the world, U.S. supplies have remained ample due to U.S. farmers responding to demand and harvesting a record corn crop.

Hobbie said record prices have not yet had any significant dampening effect on importers. He added that broadening access for U.S. feed grains and all agricultural products is key to the increasing export levels. “We have seen Congress successfully ratify many trade agreements this past year, and the Council is looking forward to the approval of trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and Korea,” he said.