We previously took a look at global trends in agricultural trade to consider how much trade contributed to total global corn, soybean and wheat consumption.

Two observations were that 1) reliance on ag trade was different for each crop, and 2) a crop’s reliance on trade varied through time.

While the earlier post considered the three crops independently, it left us wondering about the collective impact across all major crops.

Crops reliant on trade detailed

To examine which crops are more reliant on trade we converted global imports for each of the 13 primary crops to an acre equivalent. The conversion was done by dividing annual total global imports by the average annual yield. That measure shows the share of the crop’s annual harvested acres that were reliant on trade.

Figure 1 shows those data for the 2018-2019 marketing year. The first observation is that the world relies on global trade at very different levels across the 13 crops.

  • Soybeans ... 43 percent
  • Cotton ... 34 percent
  • Rapeseed ... 24 percent
  • Wheat ... 24 percent
  • Rye ... 5 percent
  • Sunflowers ... 4 percent
  • Millet ... 0 percent

Look at total acres

As we’ve written about in earlier posts, the world harvested more than 2.3 billion acres in the 2018-2019 marketing years. If we aggregate the total acres accounted for by those 13 crops shown in Figure 1, we find that 440 million acres or 19 percent of the harvested acres in the world were used as imports in the 2018-19 marketing year. What is perhaps more interesting is how that proportion has changed through time.

Figure 2 shows that measure – the share of global harvested acres tied to trade or imports – through time. Global trade has required about 10 percent to 15 percent of harvested acres throughout much of modern history. Trade trended more in the 1960s and 1970s before peaking at 15 percent in the early 1980s. It then decreased into the 1990s, when the measure reached 12 percent in 1997-1998. But since then reliance on trade has increased, exceeding 1980s levels.

Based on the measure of acreage used to satisfy trade needs, the world has become more reliant on international agricultural trade. That has grown in recent years. The growth has been driven largely by three crops.

Soybeans accounted for much of the growth trade since 2000-2001 and represented 45 percent of the increase in trade-reliant harvested acres.

Wheat at 20 percent of growth and corn at 17 percent of growth were also large contributors to the growth in trade.

Wrapping it Up

There are many ways to consider the magnitude of global trade. This post attempts to look at the magnitude of trade across 13 key crops. When considering the magnitude of global trade on an acre basis, a few key observations emerged.

Reliance on trade varies across crops. Today soybeans are most reliant on global trade with 43 percent of production traded.

When considering trade impact on an acre equivalence across all crops, the world has become more reliant on trade during the past two decades. A larger share of harvested acres relies on trade today than in the past six decades.

Most of the growth in the reliance on trade has come from soybeans at 45 percent. Furthermore the bulk of trade-reliant acres is soybean, wheat and corn. These three are all key U.S. crops, thereby making U.S. producers dependent upon the international ag trade. For many years that has been a good bet.

The recent increase in global acres reliant on trade also puts some perspective on China’s growth in soybean consumption. That growth has spurred an increase in our measure of international ag trade. Looking ahead one needs to wonder about the implications of the trade war – and where that trend goes during the next 10 or 15 year.

Will trade remain at current levels? Increase? Or decrease toward the long-run level of 10 percent to 15 percent?