Why This Wheat Cargo Symbolizes Waning U.S. Market Dominance

  • Argentine vessel departs for North Carolina this week
  • U.S. will fall to becoming the No. 3 global wheat shipper

The U.S., once the world’s largest wheat exporter, is scheduled to import the grain this month from South America in the latest sign of how the country is losing its domination of the global trade.

Even amid overflowing U.S. grain bins, there’s a ship destined to reach North Carolina shores this month with supplies from Argentina. Olympos, the vessel that’s loading 23,494 metric tons of wheat and 24,456 tons of soy meal on Monday at Las Palmas terminal, in Zarate province of Buenos Aires, will depart this week and is scheduled to reach Wilmington port on March 30, according to Rosario port data and a sailing schedule posted on the North Carolina State Ports Authority website.

As American farmers grapple with a stronger dollar that’s making their grain less competitive against foreign sellers, the U.S. will fall to becoming the world’s third-largest wheat shipper this year, trailing Russia and Canada. As recently as 2014, the U.S. was No. 1. At the same time, exports from Argentina have been climbing since newly elected President Mauricio Macri eliminated most crop taxes and lifted four years of currency controls in December.

U.S. wheat shipments are projected to drop 9.3 percent this year to 21.1 million metric tons in the season that ends May 31, the lowest since 1972, government data show. The crimped export demand is helping to drive domestic inventories to a six-year high, while corn and soybean stockpiles are estimated to reach the highest in about a decade.


By contrast, the U.S. Department of Agriculture in a March 9 report boosted its estimate for Argentina wheat exports to 7 million tons, from 6.5 million, citing a stronger shipment pace. The agency also raised its forecast for soybean-meal shipments and production in the Latin American country, the world’s largest exporter of the product.

The wheat being loaded to the Olympos vessel was sold by Molinos Canuelas Sacifia and the soy meal by Viluco SA. Two other cargoes of wheat from Argentina were scheduled to arrive in the U.S. in late January. 

In addition to this month’s shipment to the U.S., other Argentine cargoes are expected to transport a combined 675,000 tons of wheat to Brazil, Chile, Ecuador, Italy, Thailand, Morocco and Indonesia, according to Argentine port data. Brazil will be the largest buyer of Argentine wheat, followed by Indonesia.

This year through March 11, Argentina has shipped $4.9 billion of grains and oilseeds abroad, a record for the period and double the amount of a year earlier, according to data from an exporters’ group.

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