U.S. dairy export volumes reached record highs in May, boosted by continued strong sales of cheese, milk powder and whey products, according to trade data released July 11 by USDA's Foreign Agricultural Service.

Total export value was $500 million, up 26% from May 2011. In the March-May period, U.S. exports of dry ingredients (milk powder, whey, lactose), cheese and butterfat were 446,577 tons, up 11% from the previous year.

Nonfat dry milk/skim milk powder exports improved in May, increasing 12% from April volume (on a daily-average basis).

In the March-May period, sales to Mexico were up 42% from the prior year, and exports to the Middle East/North Africa more than tripled, but shipments to Southeast Asia were off 24%

Whey exports were strong in May, with total volume up 4% from April (daily-average basis) to finish just shy of the record reached in June 2010. Improved shipments of dry whey (+15% vs. April daily average) and near-record volumes of WPC drove the gains. China remains the major customer for U.S. whey products, with March-May purchases up 17% vs. the prior year. In addition, exports to Mexico were up 27%.

U.S. cheese exports established a new record high in May, with volumes up 16% from April (daily average basis). In the March-May period, shipments to Mexico were up 44% vs. prior year, while South Korea (+23%), Japan (+36%) and Saudi Arabia (+38%) also posted strong gains.

Butterfat export volumes continued to improve in May, reaching an 12-month high. In the March-May period, more than three-quarters of the volume went to the Middle East/North Africa region (primarily Saudi Arabia).

Dairy solids trade balance strong

May dairy exports were equivalent to 14.8% of U.S. milk solids production, the highest percentage since October 2010, and the 26th straight month in which exports have been between 12%-15% of output. Exports were equivalent to 13.3% of U.S. milk solids production in 2011 and 12.8% in 2010. May dairy imports were just 3.5% of milk solids production.