Iowa Public Television


Japanese Grain Imports Hit All-Time High Despite Earthquake Damage

posted on March 24, 2011

Hello, I'm Mark Pearson. Government reports this week revealed the U.S. economy expanded a bit faster at the end of last year than analysts originally estimated.

According to the Commerce Department, U.S. gross domestic product, a widely regarded barometer of economic vitality, grew at an annual rate of 3.1 percent in the 4th quarter of 2010... That's up three-tenths of one percent from the government's original tally.

Consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity, grew at an annual pace of 4 percent late in 2010 -- its best showing in four years.

But those upbeat reports were offset by the National Realtors Association which announced sales of previously occupied homes fell 9.6 percent last month. NEW home sales, meanwhile, declined to an annual rate of 250,000 -- their lowest level on record.

And businesses reduced orders for big-ticket durable goods by 0.9 percent in February, marking the fourth decline in the past five months.

Thus far, the manufacturing sector has been a leader in the economic recovery. There is some concern, however, the catastrophic earthquake and tsunami in Japan could restrict shipments of parts to U.S. companies, thereby slowing factory output.

Japan also represents a lucrative market for American agricultural exports. So far though, despite tragic loss of life and seemingly irreparable damage to infrastructure, U.S. farm commodities seem to be flowing into Japan.

Two weeks after the devastating 9.0 earthquake, tsunami and nuclear energy disaster struck Japan the countries of the world continue to assess the impact. As the dust settles, it is clear thousands of people were killed and billions of dollars in damage was done by Mother Nature. It remains to be seen how much food and fuel the ravage island nation will need in the coming months.

According to USDA, only days after the disaster, Japan was still buying corn and soybeans at rates higher than one year ago. Japan is the largest importer of U.S. corn.

There also appears to be less damage to Japanese rice production than originally estimated. The quake and tsunami are believed to have affected only 2 percent of the nation's rice acreage. And no rice had been planted prior to the natural disaster.

After a shock last week, U.S. commodity prices for pork and beef have bounced-back. The United States Meat Export Federation, a non-profit federally funded trade association, is sending pork to help feed the nearly half-million Japanese forced from their homes. Officials with USMEF also believe consumer demand for U.S. meat products will remain strong. Japan is the largest buyer of U.S. pork and the third largest buyer of U.S. beef.

Officials with the U.S. Grains Council say only four of the 14 ports that receive grain and processed feed were damaged badly enough by the tsunami to be shut-down. Despite the devastation, the remaining shipping has been redirected to other ports around the island nation.

Grains Council officials also feel little damage was done to Japanese animal production. While power and fuel are in short supply Japan's livestock industry may completely recover in four to six weeks.

And, according to the grain export promotion group, sufficient repairs will be made to Japanese infrastructure by the end of April to get the Asian super powers' economy moving again.


Tags: disasters earthquakes Japan markets news storms tsunamis weather