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U.S. dairy exports in March were lower across the board, with overall volume and value down more than 20 percent from March 2015, when shipments were partially inflated by resolution of the West Coast port slowdown.
U.S. exporters shipped 140,759 tons of milk powders, cheese, butterfat, whey and lactose in March, down 23 percent year-over-year. Overall exports were valued at $378.9 million, down 31 percent, and the lowest figure since February 2011 (on a daily-average basis).
Shipments of nonfat dry milk/skim milk powder (NDM/SMP) were just 41,180 tons, down 25 percent - the first year-over-year decline since August. Sales to Mexico were down 30 percent, and also were the lowest since August. Volume to Southeast Asia was off 28 percent, with lighter sales to Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. The lone bright spot was a record-high 3,858 tons to Colombia (vs. 480 tons last March), more than double the previous single-month high.
Suppliers continued to price aggressively to move powder. The value of U.S. NDM/SMP exports in March was $1,888/ton (86¢/lb.), the lowest since May 2005.
Cheese exports in March were 25,488 tons, down 26 percent from last year, the 18th straight month cheese volume has lagged the prior year. Shipments to Mexico were up 7 percent, but exports to South Korea were down 61 percent from last March's record-high volume. In the last seven months, U.S. exports to South Korea averaged 3,126 tons, compared with an average of 5,800 tons per month in the previous year-and-a-half.
Whey exports remain sluggish in the midst of weak market conditions. Overall whey exports were 32,747 tons, down 20 percent from last year. Shipments of dry sweet whey were just 10,792 tons, down 39 percent and the lowest monthly volume in nearly 16 years. This volume was barely half the monthly average over the last 10 years. Shipments of dry sweet whey to China and Southeast Asia were each off more than 40 percent from year-ago levels. Exports of whey protein isolate also were lower - down 28 percent - due to a significant drop-off in sales to 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 386 tons in March. Exports of whey protein concentrate held up better - down just 2 percent year-over-year - driven by improved sales to Southeast Asia (4,367 tons, up 38 percent and the most since December 2014).
Exports of lactose slipped to 28,855 tons, down 18 percent, characterized by lighter sales to China and New Zealand.
Exports of other products have dwindled. Shipments of butterfat were just 3,217 tons, with nearly three-quarters of sales going to Mexico (mostly anhydrous milkfat) and only 172 tons going to MENA. Exports of WMP were down 51 percent from last year, with almost half going to Colombia. MPC shipments were down 59 percent, with about half of sales going to Mexico and nothing going to New Zealand.
Though sales were lower to most major markets, exporters posted gains in shipments to South America and the Caribbean. Sales to South America were mostly milk powder, cheese and infant formula. About half went to Colombia, with Chile and Peru also taking product. U.S. government data reported a 20-percent increase in dairy exports to the Caribbean - notably to the Dominican Republic and Haiti. However, the basket of products exported to the region, valued at $22.4 million, included $6.3 million of product classified as "Food Product Relief," a category that may include little, if any, dairy.
On a total milk solids basis, U.S. exports were equivalent to 12.1 percent of U.S. milk production in March, the lowest figure in 14 months. Imports were equivalent to 3.9 percent of production.