U.S. dairy exports are in their biggest slump since 2012, according to a monthly summary from the U.S. Dairy Export Council.

Exporters shipped just 125,876 tons of milk powders, cheese, butterfat, whey and lactose in January, down 23% from a year ago and the lowest since December 2012. Total overseas sales were valued at $401.5 million, down 31% from last year and the lowest since July 2012.

Congestion at West Coast ports contributed to the slowdown.

Sales to the Middle East/North Africa region (MENA), Southeast Asia and China were the lowest in more than four years. In January, the value of shipments to MENA was down 75% from a year ago, while exports to Southeast Asia were down 53% and China was down 40%. In addition, sales to Mexico, our largest market, were off 20%. The only major markets to post increases over last year were South Korea (+23%) and South America (+27%).

Moreover, exports of virtually every major product lagged year-ago levels.

Overseas sales of nonfat dry milk/skim milk powder (NDM/SMP) were 34,948 tons in January, down 10%. Exports to Southeast Asia were down 47%, offsetting a 40% gain in shipments to Mexico. In the last two months, NDM/SMP exports were equivalent to just 37% of U.S. production, resulting in a record-high build-up of commercial inventories for this time of year.

Cheese exports have fallen steadily since June. January volume was 23,767 tons, off 26% from a year ago. More than a quarter of the sales went to South Korea, which posted a 37% year-over-year increase. However, sales to Mexico were down 22%.

Overall whey exports were just 31,128 tons, the lowest since July 2010. Shipments of WPI were nearly double what they were a year ago, but dry whey exports were down 27% and WPC exports were off 14%. More than one-third of whey sales went to China.

Butterfat exports were just 2,053 tons, down 75% from a year earlier. Sales to the MENA region have averaged less than 1,000 tons/month since August, and January volume was down 88% from last year.

U.S. exports (on a total milk solids basis) were equivalent to 11.2% of U.S. milk solids production in January (see table), down from the 15.4% proportion exported in 2013-14. Imports were equivalent to 3.4% of production in January.

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U.S. dairy exports as a percent of production

 

Jan.

Jan.

Item

2015

2014

NDM/SMP

37%

43%

Total cheese

5.3%

7.4%

Butterfat

3.1%

12.2%

Dry sweet whey

39%

58%

Lactose

56%

67%

Total milk solids

11.20%

14.50%