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U.S. dairy export performance in February showed few surprises, continuing trends seen since last year. Exports of nonfat dry milk/skim milk powder (NDM/SMP) held up; cheese and dry whey remain in a lower gear; lactose keeps moving; fluid milk is steady; and sales of butterfat, whole milk powder (WMP) and milk protein concentrate (MPC) are just a fraction of what they were at their 2014 peak. One bright spot in February was a bump in exports of whey protein concentrate (WPC).
U.S. exporters shipped 143,069 tons of milk powders, cheese, butterfat, whey and lactose in February, up 4 percent from last year's depressed levels, when West Coast port slowdowns limited shipments, and about even with last year when adjusted for leap day. Overall exports were valued at $375.2 million, down 13 percent from last year (and down 16 percent adjusted for leap day).
Exporters continued to focus on Mexico for NDM/SMP sales. In February, nearly half of the 41,350 tons of NDM/SMP went south of the border. For comparison, from 2010-14, Mexico accounted for 37 percent of U.S. NDM/SMP exports. Exporters also targeted the Philippines, where volume was 77 percent higher than last year (+70 percent adjusted for leap day).
NDM/SMP exports were aided by aggressive pricing; the value of U.S. NDM/SMP exports in February was just ($2,047/ton (93¢/lb.), the lowest since August 2009.
Cheese exports in February were 24,389 tons, down 18 percent from last year (-20 percent leap-day adjusted), the 17th straight month cheese volume has lagged the prior year. Shipments to Mexico were about the same as a year ago, but exports to Japan, South Korea and the Middle East/North Africa region (MENA) were down by more than one-third.
Overall whey exports were 35,625 tons, up 9 percent from last year (+5 percent leap-day adjusted), due mostly to strong exports of WPC to China, which were up 39 percent (34 percent adjusted). Whey sales to Mexico continue to lag (-19 percent year-over-year, -22 percent adjusted). Further, overall exports of whey protein isolate (WPI) are just half of what they were last spring due to a significant drop-off from China. China bought U.S. WPI very heavily in the first five months of 2015 - 2,211 tons per month. Since then they've tapered down, taking just 302 tons in February.
Other than lactose (+13 percent year-over-year; +9 percent adjusted), exports of other products have dwindled. Shipments of butterfat were just 4,025 tons, with nearly three-quarters of sales going to Mexico and only 431 tons going to MENA. Exports of WMP were down 19 percent from last year (-22 percent adjusted), with almost two-thirds going to Colombia. MPC shipments were down 43 percent (-45 percent adjusted), with more than half of sales going to Mexico and nothing going to New Zealand.
On a total milk solids basis, U.S. exports were equivalent to 13.4 percent of U.S. milk production in February, the highest figure since October. Imports were equivalent to 3.8 percent of production.