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U.S. dairy exports post second straight record year


Mark O'Keefe, USDEC
PHONE: (703) 528-4812
EMAIL: mokeefe@usdec.org

ARLINGTON, VA – Strong global demand and tight supply helped drive U.S. dairy exports to a second consecutive volume record in 2021 and a new all-time high in value. U.S. export volume last year increased 10% over 2020 to more than 2.3 million metric tons (MT) milk solid equivalent. Value rose 18% to $7.75 billion.

Export volume in 2021 was equivalent to more than 17% of U.S. milk produced last year, also an all-time high.

“We’ve seen tremendous growth in U.S. dairy exports over the past two years. That growth is all the more impressive because it came in the face of the ongoing pandemic and a supply chain crisis that continues to challenge U.S. dairy export competitiveness,” says Krysta Harden, president and CEO of the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC). “But it’s important to remember that this is a long-term progression. U.S. exports have been rising for the past two decades, and the U.S. dairy industry—from farmers to manufacturers—have been doing the hard work to build and service demand for U.S. dairy for just as long. That investment in and dedication to export customers is one of the reasons why we’ve been able to face today’s challenges and grow the industry.”

Here are some of 2021’s highlights:

  • The U.S. set annual export records in cheese, nonfat dry milk/skim milk powder (NFDM/SMP), whey, lactose, and fluid milk and cream. U.S. cheese shipments topped 400,000 MT for the first time and whey surpassed 600,000 MT for the first time. NFDM/SMP fell just shy of 900,000 MT, topping out at 892,528 MT.
  • U.S. dairy exports to Mexico rebounded strongly in 2021 alongside Mexico’s economic recovery. U.S. cheese sales to Mexico set a record, rising 13% and exceeding 100,000 MT for the first time. U.S. NFDM/SMP sales to Mexico jumped 18% to 337,846 MT, second highest in history. Mexico accounted for more than a quarter of total U.S. cheese exports in 2021 and 38% of U.S. NFDM/SMP shipments.
  • U.S. cheese exports jumped 14% in 2021 to 404,675 MT, led by strong demand from Latin America. Shipments to Central America soared 53% and the additional 12,117 MT U.S. suppliers shipped there last year represents the largest cheese export gain to any major market. Exports to South America jumped 33%, while shipments to Mexico grew 13%. 
  • U.S. suppliers had their best year for butterfat exports since 2014. Sales rose 121% to 57,487 MT, led by a tripling of volume to the Middle East/North Africa (MENA), but also supported by strong gains in many key markets, including Canada, China, Southeast Asia, South Korea and Australia.
  • Total U.S. exports to the MENA region soared in 2021 across product categories: butterfat +154%, cheese +39%, NFDM/SMP +51% and whey products +20%. 
  • U.S. whey exports grew 10% to 613,944 MT in 2021, driven primarily by China, which accounted for 44% of total whey volume. U.S. whey sales to China rose by nearly 50,000 MT, as the nation rebuilt its pig herd from African Swine Fever in the first half of the year. Chinese purchasing decline sharply in the second half, as pork prices plummeted and herd expansion efforts halted. Vietnam, South Korea and Mexico recorded strong double-digit increases as well.
  • Southeast Asia remained the second-largest U.S. market in value terms, with the U.S. shipping nearly $1.4 billion worth of products to the region (an increase of 11% over the previous year). However, the region was the hardest hit by delays and cancellations caused by U.S. supply chain issues. That resulted in fairly flat volume performance overall, although Southeast Asia still accounted for 36% of U.S. NFDM/SMP exports, running a close second to Mexico.

“Strong underlying fundamentals continue to drive global demand for high-quality, affordable dairy nutrition,” says Harden. “We are optimistic that will continue to translate to opportunity for the U.S. dairy sector. At the same time, we remain realistic about the challenges, from supply chain issues to global economic performance.” (For more on USDEC expectations for 2022, see the U.S. Dairy Exporter Blog post, “U.S. dairy exports set multiple records in 2021.”)

“Record performance or not, the last two years should demonstrate to any remaining doubters that the U.S. dairy marketplace is global,” says Harden. “The U.S. dairy industry has invested in people, facilities and products specifically targeted to export markets. USDEC and the industry continue to work hard to reduce barriers to trade, stimulate overseas dairy consumption and reinforce the U.S. reputation as a committed, go-to source for dairy around the world. Over the long-term, we know that dairy export trend line will continue to rise.”


The U.S. Dairy Export Council is a non-profit, independent membership organization that represents the global trade interests of U.S. dairy producers, proprietary processors and cooperatives, ingredient suppliers and export traders. Its mission is to enhance U.S. global competitiveness and assist the U.S. industry to increase its global dairy ingredient sales and exports of U.S. dairy products. USDEC accomplishes this through programs in market development that build global demand for U.S. dairy products, resolve market access barriers and advance industry trade policy goals. USDEC is supported by staff across the United States and overseas in Mexico, South America, Asia, Middle East and Europe. The U.S. Dairy Export Council prohibits discrimination on the basis of age, disability, national origin, race, color, religion, creed, gender, sexual orientation, political beliefs, marital status, military status, and arrest or conviction record. www.usdec.org.