Adding Russia to the world's largest trading club could further open an important market for U.S. farmers, who increasingly are enjoying the benefits of foreign sales.
The projected total would be $1.7 billion above the 1996 record and $5.3 billion more than fiscal 2003. USDA based its predicted increase on strong economic growth overseas, favorable exchange rates, and limited competition in the corn and wheat markets.
Keith Collins, USDA Economist: "One factor, of course as always, is weather. We did have some short grain crops in Russia and Ukraine and in the Western European countries last year and that's helped give us some grain markets around the world. A second factor is the global economy, which is doing very well."
Increases are expected across-the-board. USDA forecasts grain and feed exports of $18 billion, up $3.1 billion from last year. Cotton sales should reach $4.2 billion, up $1.5 billion over 2003. And horticultural sales are projected to hit a record $13.5 billion, led by tree nuts and a broad array of processed foods.
The one sector facing decreased export sales is in livestock and livestock products, which will fall from $9 billion to $7 billion. USDA blames the outbreak of avian flu and a lone case of Mad Cow disease for the reduction.