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U.S. soybean exports surge despite Chinese tariff threat

Article cover photo
Iowa Soybean Association CEO Kirk Leeds, left, and Marketing Director Grant Kimberley, right, inspect soybean meal at a Bohi crushing plant in China during a recent trade mission. (Photo: Aaron Putze/Iowa Soybean Association)

By Matthew Wilde, ISA senior writer



Green Bay Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodgers once uttered that word to calm down fans after a few losses. In a sense, trade experts say recent U.S. soybean sales abroad should have the same effect on farmers worried about the nation’s trade dispute with China.

Last month’s threat by China to slap a 25-percent tariff on U.S. soybeans in retaliation for proposed U.S. duties on Chinese products initially sent soybean prices reeling. Farmers feared the nation’s large stockpile of soybeans would increase — causing more financial heartache in the Heartland — because the world’s No. 1 buyer would purchase even more from South America.

A surge in U.S. soybean exports and prices days after the tariff announcement indicate otherwise.

“I won’t call (fears) unfounded,” said Chad Hart, Iowa State University Extension and Outreach grain economist. “No market can replace China; it’s a big deal.

“But after the immediate market reaction … what we saw is export growth across the board that should continue despite what happens in China,” he continued. “We’ve seen the market strengthen despite all the trade rhetoric.”

The tariff threat increased premiums for Brazilian and Argentine soybeans, making U.S legumes less expensive by about $25-$30 per ton. And the bargain shoppers came out in droves.

Buyers from Europe, Egypt, Pakistan, Indonesia and other countries bought tens of millions of bushels of U.S. beans since the beginning of April, according to government data. A crusher in Argentina even purchased nearly 9 million bushels from the U.S., its largest purchase in 20 years, instead of from neighboring Brazil. Argentina, the world’s third-largest soybean producer, was ravaged by drought. Its soybean crop was reduced by about 35 percent.

“We actually picked up more business throughout the world because of the tariff threat,” said John Baize, an international oil seed consultant from Falls Church, Virginia. “The Europeans are saying, ‘what the heck, U.S soybeans are cheaper, we’ll buy those.’”

U.S. soybean exports for the marketing year, which runs from September through August, got off to a sluggish start — 20-25 percent off the previous years’ pace, according to Hart. Thanks in part to a flurry of April sales, the nation is close to meeting its export projections previously in doubt.

The April U.S. Department of Agriculture World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates Report projects U.S. soybean exports for 2017-18 at a little more than 2 billion bushels. Based on previous and future shipments on the books, Baize said the country is only 80 million bushels away from hitting the goal.

With four months left in the marketing year, Baize thinks the U.S. will meet and possibly exceed it.

“I think it can be achieved,” Baize said. “We still have more sales that we’ll make to Latin America, Southeast Asia, Europe and other markets.

“Another positive is we haven’t seen significant cancellations of sales on the books to China,” he added. “In fact, we’ve seen more sales for the next marketing year. What the Chinese are saying is even if tariffs go into effect, we’ll still have to buy from the U.S. so we might as well now when they are cheap.”

Baize said even if China took every exported soybean from Brazil, Argentina and other countries, it would still need between 550 million to 734 million bushels of soybeans from the U.S. based on current demand. And, use continues to grow in China and worldwide.

“They would still have to come to the U.S. and we would be shipping to other markets,” Baize said. “All you’re doing is re-arranging the market.”

Robust exports and domestic use helped prices rebound after China’s tariff announcement.

May soybean futures initially plummeted 56 cents on April 4 before recovering slightly to close at $10.15 per bushel. Prices climbed as high as $10.60 per bushel April 12. On April 20, May soybeans closed at $10.28 per bushel.

Hart said U.S. soybean sales to Egypt have tripled, which is a big surprise story. Japan and Mexico are also buying more.

“That is helping stem the tide and pushing the market along despite trade problems with China,” Hart said. “We’ve weathered the immediate negative impact.”

Contact Matthew Wilde at

For media inquiries, please contact Lindsey Foss, Public Relations Manager at or Aaron Putze, ISA Communications Director at

For permission to republish articles or to request high-res photos contact Aaron Putze at Iowa Soybean Association | 1255 SW Prairie Trail Pkwy | Ankeny | IA | 50023 | US

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