With the year ahead, you likely already have plans to market and sell your grain (Hint: You should post a bid on FarmLead’s marketplace today). But who will be your end customer 10 years from now?
This isn’t a question that many farmers consider. But it’s important to understand how the factors we consider in corn impact one another and lead to forecasts for the future. This week, the USDA released its long-term forecasts for global corn trade. And the numbers are interesting…
From a macro-perspective, the USDA expects today corn trade to hit 185.6 MMT in 2026/27. That was an 18 MMT increase from its previous forecast. The U.S. portion of that trade is expected to increase by 5.7 MMT during the projection period to 55.2 MMT.
The agency says that Argentine exports will increase from 26.8 million tons in 2017/18 to 30.0 million tons by 2026/27. They also project that Brazilian exports will rise “by 40 percent to 37.9 million tons by 2026/27.”
There are several key elements tied to US exports worth noting. It appears that the USDA does not anticipate any major shakeup to trade between the United States and Mexico (even with the current NAFTA battle brewing.) The agency says that total corn exports will hit 23.0 MMT.
The USDA also expects that Chinese food and ethanol demand will propel an uptick in Chinese corn imports from the U.S. They also hiked their expectations for sorghum to 9 MMT (again, ignoring the current shakeup in trade relations between the nations.)
Overall the agency anticipates that global demand will remain robust. Of course, it’s always difficult to actually project this far out when it comes to this type of analysis. Every forecast of this depth requires a wide number of assumptions.
But we will give the USDA create. Back in 2007 when forecasting for 2016, analysts did project 90.0 million acres, a figure that was just 4 MMT shy of actual plantings for that year. They were a year early on the 90.0 figure. They also projected corn yields of 170.2 bushels per acre for 2016/17. They were not off by much with that 10-year forecast.
But the number they missed by a wide margin: Ending stocks. They said 805 million bushels for 2016/17, well short of the 2.293 billion.
These forecasts are designed to give farmers a guideline for the road ahead. Stay on top of the trends, and adjust accordingly.
US hikes long-term forecasts for world corn, cotton, soybean, wheat imports
US officials hiked long-term forecasts for world trade of major crops including corn, soybeans and wheat, citing the incentive from raised demand expectations from importers – including the much-watched Chinese market.
The US Department of Agriculture, in much-watched long-term agriculture forecasts, lifted by 18.0m tonnes to 185.6m tonnes its estimate for world corn trade as of 2026-27, with the soybean figure upgraded by 19.8m tonnes to 199.2m tonnes, and the wheat number by 11.0m tonnes to 208.5m tonnes.
Among other crops, global sorghum trade as of 2026-27 was pegged at 9.6m tonnes, up 4.1m tonnes from the forecast made a year ago, with that in cotton put at 56.7m bales, a 9.3m-tonne upgrade.
The USDA flagged “population growth and urbanisation” as “significant factors driving overall growth in demand for agricultural products, even though population growth is slowing.
“Global income growth outpaces population growth, further boosting and changing agricultural demand.”
‘China’s feed demand grows’
For coarse grains, such as barley, corn and sorghum, “the expansion of livestock production in feed-deficit countries continues to be the main driver of growth in… imports,” the USDA said, naming Africa, the Middle East, South East Asia and much of Latin America as “key growth markets”.
For corn, the USDA raised by 3.3m tonnes to 23.0m tonnes its forecast for Mexico’s imports in 2026-27, with the estimate for Iranian purchases hiked by 4.3m tonnes to 14.2m tonnes, and for Vietnam by 3.6m tonnes to 12.7m tonnes.
For China, the corn import forecast for nine seasons’ time was lifted by 1.0m tonnes to 7.1m tonnes, with a bigger upgrade in the figure for “relatively lower priced” sorghum – from 900,000 tonnes to 6.8m tonnes.
“China’s feed demand grows while recently adopted initiatives curb corn production in erodible and drought-prone regions,” the USDA said.
“Feed mills in south China can substitute sorghum and barley for relatively expensive Chinese corn.”
Soybean, cotton outlooks
For soybeans, meanwhile, Chinese imports as of 2026-27 were put at 138.1m tonnes – an upgrade of 17.2m tonnes, and responsible for virtually all the uplift in the world trade figure.
The USDA, noting that “China’s soybean imports have risen steadily since the late 1990s”, said that its forecasts “assume that China will continue to meet rising demand for edible vegetable oils and protein in feed by importing soybeans, while supporting domestic production of food and feed grains.
“China continues to add oilseed-crushing capacity that contributes to continued growth in soybean imports”
China, with its 2026-27 import needs lifted by 4.8m bales to 19.2m bales, was also largely behind the improved figure for world cotton trade, with the country’s raised buy-ins reflecting “completion of a years-long disposal of stockpiles accumulated under a cotton price-support programme that operated until 2013”.
However, Vietnam, whose “cotton imports increased more than five-fold over the past decade”, was seen taking 10.4m bales in nine years’ time, an upgrade of 3.6m bales,” as its textile industry grows rapidly”.
Income, urbanisation, population gains
For wheat, improved trade expectations reflected upgrades to imports by a number of countries, including China, whose 2026-27 volumes were lifted by 1.0m tonnes to 4.4m tonnes.
However, “growth in wheat imports is concentrated in developing countries where income, urbanisation and population gains drive increases in demand,” the USDA said, citing the likes of Egypt, Iraq, Indonesia and Bangladesh among major growth markets.
“As incomes rise in Indonesia, Vietnam, and other Asian countries, demand for instant noodles and bakery products increase.”
Egypt’s imports were seen growing to 14.4m tonnes in nine years’ time, 1.0m tonnes more than previously expected.
The raise crop import needs will mean more rapid expansion in production in exporting countries than had been thought with the USDA saying that “increasing demand for grains, oilseeds, and other crops provides incentives to expand global area under cultivation and intensify crop production”.
Indeed, while improved yields will play a major role in meeting enhanced demand, “globally, the total area planted to grains, oilseeds, and cotton is projected to expand by about 5%” over the next decade.
This forecast implies firm prices of agricultural commodities, to warrant the investment needed to expand farms.
Area expansion will be centred on countries “with a reserve of arable land, lower production costs, and policies that allow farmers to respond to prices”, the USDA said, seeing the biggest plantings growth in South America, Sub-Saharan Africa, and South East Asia.
“Large expansions are projected for Brazil and Argentina, including uncultivated land brought into soybean production in response to increased world demand for protein meal and vegetable oils.
In Brazil, the USDA forecast that over the next decade “5m hectares of new land is brought into production, while double cropping increases total harvested area by 17m hectares… or about 25% of current cropland area”.
‘Prices to rise’
Brazil’s corn exports were pegged in 2026-27 at 43.3m tonnes, up 5.4m tonnes from the previous forecast, with the Ukraine figure upgraded by 7.1m tonnes to 30.0m tonnes.
The forecast for US corn exports was kept at 55.2m tonnes, although for soybeans US volumes were seen at 67.2m tonnes, up 8.7m tonnes from the previous forecast.
Indeed, “increasing global demand and rising domestic use for soybeans is expected to cause prices to rise and generate higher producer returns, producing incentives to increase plantings”, the USDA said, expanding on long-term forecasts released in November for the US itself.
For cotton, US exports in 2026-27 were pegged at 15.2m bales, an upgrade of 2.8m bales.
“US upland cotton exports are projected to fluctuate in the early years and then trend higher again in the second half of the projection period.”