In contrast to corn where US exports have generally been flat since hitting a peak between 1979 and 1981 (http://agpolicy.org/weekcol/684.html), US soybean exports have generally trended upward over time.
The US exported 5.8 MMT (million metric tons) of soybeans in 1964, passed the 10 MMT threshold in 1969, the 20 MMT threshold in 1978 falling below that level in 7 of the next 27 years before passing the 30 MMT level in 2006 and the 40 MMT level three years later in 2009. With a drought reduced crop, 2012 US soybean exports were 35.8 MMT.
But that is not the complete export story. For one thing, soybean meal and soybean oil should be considered as well as soybeans. Together the three make up the soybean complex. Secondly, while the US has experienced dramatic increases in soybean and soybean complex exports over the last five decades, equally dramatic is the persistent decline in US’s share of those exports.
In 2012 soybean meal and soybean oil exports added 10.9 MMT to US soybean exports for a total soybean complex export level of 46.7 MMT. In 1964, soybean meal and soybean oil comprised 29.8 percent of US soybean complex exports while in 2012 these further processed products made up 23.3 percent.
In 1964, US soybean complex exports accounted for 81.1 percent of world soybean complex exports. By 2012, the US share of world soybean complex exports had fallen to 27.5 percent. That difference has been largely taken up by Argentina and Brazil.
Brazil exported 1.8 percent of world soybean complex exports in 1964, growing to 32.2 percent in 2012 (54.9 MMT). Of the 2012 soybean complex exported by Brazil, soybean meal accounted for 23.7 percent. Before 1995 when China began its rapid increase in soybean imports, that percentage was 68.7 percent as Brazil began competing with the US to capture a portion of the Chinese unprocessed soybean market. Currently soybean oil accounts for 2.5 percent of Brazil’s soybean complex exports. In 2012, 73.8 percent of Brazil’s soybean complex exports was unprocessed soybeans.
Argentina did not begin to export any of the products in soybean complex until 1972 when it began to export soybean meal and soybean oil. From a miniscule 0.2 percent in 1972 world soybean complex exports, Argentina’s share has grown to 24.1 percent in 2012 (40.9 MMT). Over the whole period, Argentina has concentrated on exporting the crush products of soybean meal (67.4 percent of its soybean complex exports in 2012) and soybean oil (11.0 percent), capturing the added value of the crush. In 2012, Argentina accounted for 45.5 percent of world soybean meal exports, with Brazil coming in at 21.5 percent and the US in third position at 16.3 percent. All other exporters divvied up the remaining 17.0 percent,