WASHINGTON, D.C. — The U.S. Department of Agriculture has revised its forecast of agricultural exports for fiscal 2004 to $61.5 billion, an increase of $5.3 billion over ag exports in 2003. If realized, 2004 exports would be the highest ever, eclipsing the old record of $59.8 billion set in 1996.

“This latest export sales forecast clearly indicates that our efforts to expand overseas market opportunities for our farmers and ranchers are working,” said Agriculture Secretary Ann M. Veneman. “With some of our recent market re-openings and continued strong commodity prices, we are well on the way to setting a new export sales record.

“Exports to China continue to be a real bright spot for U.S. agriculture,” said Veneman. “U.S. agricultural exports to China will have more than tripled since their accession to the World Trade Organization, rising from $1.8 billion in 2001, to $3.5 billion in 2003, and they are forecast to reach a record $5.9 billion in fiscal 2004. China was our fifth largest agricultural customer last year, and our number one market for soybeans, cotton and hides/skins.”

Wheat and corn exports are likely to account for 50 percent of the annual increase in agricultural exports. U.S. wheat is in high demand and is benefiting from reduced competition due to poor harvests in the European Union, Russia and Ukraine. Corn is experiencing strong sales growth to Egypt, Colombia, Israel and Korea.

Other commodities benefiting from large sales increases this year include cotton and horticultural products.

Cotton sales are forecast to rise $1.5 billion over last year to $4.2 billion. Cotton farmers are benefiting from strong prices and high global demand.

Horticultural sales are forecast to set a record of $13.5 billion, with tree nuts and a broad array of processed foods accounting for two-thirds of the overall gain. Horticultural exports to Canada and Mexico remain strong, sales to Europe of selected products are brisk, and exports to several Asian countries are rising sharply.

The 2004 forecast of livestock and livestock products of $7 billion is $1 billion higher than USDA’s February forecast. The increase is due to high beef, pork and poultry prices and the Department’s efforts to reopen some key beef and poultry markets that were closed following findings of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy and Avian Influenza. Livestock exports in fiscal 2003 totaled $9 billion.

Imports, forecast at $51.5 billion for 2004, are $5.8 billion higher than in 2003, resulting in an agricultural trade surplus of $10 billion.

As they have for the past three decades, horticultural imports continue to rise, accounting for about half of the overall import gain. Off-season demand for fresh products and competitive prices are driving the long-term growth in imported fruits and vegetables.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service, the Foreign Agricultural Service and the World Agricultural Outlook Board release agricultural trade forecasts quarterly. The summary and full report of USDA’s Outlook for U.S. Agricultural Exports may be accessed from the ERS Web site at http://www.ers.usda.gov or the FAS Web site at http://www.fas.usda.gov. The next quarterly report will be issued on Aug. 31.