U.S. dairy exports set new volume and value records again in 2022. This feat was accomplished despite high inflation and a host of other challenges to international trade, according to the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC), Arlington, Va. 

It was the third straight record year for volume and the second for value. Export volume on a milk solids equivalent (MSE) basis increased 5% to 2.4 million metric tons (MT). Export volume in 2022 was equivalent to 18% of U.S. milk produced last year, also an all-time high.

Export value finished the year up 25% to $9.6 billion — the first time it has ever crossed the $9-billion mark.

“We’ve had three consecutive years of record U.S. dairy exports while facing some of the strongest dairy export headwinds that we’ve ever seen,” says Krysta Harden, president, and CEO of the USDEC. “Last year, we saw historic global inflation, slowing economic growth, lingering supply chain challenges, and severely reduced Chinese demand. U.S. dairy export performance under those conditions is a testament to U.S. suppliers’ commitment to global markets and also to the value consumers in those markets have come to place on U.S. dairy products.”

Through 11 months of 2022 (European Union data for December was not available at press time), the United States increased its global market share by 2 percentage points to 25%. The U.S. set annual export records in cheese, whey, and lactose. U.S. cheese shipments were particularly notable, rising 12% to 451,370 MT, or nearly 1 billion pounds.

Here is a look at the USDEC’s export data more in-depth:

  • The United States increased cheese sales gains across all continents. Growth highlights include Mexico +18%; Middle East/North Africa (MENA) +41%; Japan +17%; Central America +17%; Caribbean +25%; South Korea +9%; Australia +14%; and Colombia, +28%.
  • Mexico became the first $2-billion U.S. dairy export market as sales rose 37% to $2.5 billion.
  • Mexico was the No. 1 U.S. market in volume as well, with exports up 9% to 556,497 MT. Better-than-expected economic growth — five straight quarters of gross domestic product (GDP) gains through December 2022 — helped drive a demand rebound. 
  • The top U.S. markets by-product in 2022 were: Mexico accounted for 27% of U.S. cheese exports, 43% of U.S. nonfat dry milk/skim milk powder sales, and 30% of U.S. milk protein concentrate; China accounted for 30% of U.S. whey sales and 26% of U.S. lactose; Canada represented 43% of U.S. butterfat sales; and Taiwan accounted for 38% of U.S. fluid milk and cream exports. 
  • U.S. suppliers had their best year for butterfat exports since 2013. Sales rose 43% to 81,721 MT, led by triple-digit gains to Canada and Mexico.

“Every year can’t be a new record, and we are bound to have some down years. But over the long term, overseas demand for U.S. dairy has risen for the last two decades and we believe it will continue to increase moving forward,” Harden notes. “The rising global population, the growing middle class, and the need for sustainable, affordable nutrition will continue to drive dairy consumption growth. And our biggest competitors — the European Union and New Zealand — are facing challenging supply outlooks and government policies limiting their capacity to grow.”

If export records can be shattered under such challenging conditions, optimism for U.S dairy exports abounds as some of these obstacles perhaps dissipate.

For much more on U.S. dairy exports, check out our interview with Tony Rice, trade policy manager for the USDEC and the National Milk Producers Federation, which will appear in the May issue of Dairy Foods in the “Let’s Talk Dairy” section.