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U.S.-South Africa ag trade hits high in 2022

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USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) has recently updated its fact sheet on the agricultural economy of South Africa, the largest agricultural producer on the continent.

It offers a snapshot of U.S. trade with this remote but important nation.

Agricultural trade between the United States and South Africa amounted to a record $1 billion in 2022, reports FAS. Although the value of exports and imports between the two remained reasonably close until recently, it has diverged sharply over the past three years. In 2020, U.S. ag exports to South Africa amounted to $324 million, compared to imports, which were valued at $468 million.

In 2022, the gap widened: U.S. exports to South Africa amounted to $351 million, whereas imports were valued at $648 million.

Fresh fruit exports from South Africa to the U.S. were the single largest category, with a value of $155 million: 6 percent of the total. Fruit and vegetable juice accounted for another $32 million.

Principal ag exports from the U.S. to South Africa were feeds, meats, and fodders ($66 million in value), poultry meat ($57 million in value), and tree nuts ($32 million). Planting seeds accounted for another $18 million.

Horticulture accounts for 30 percent of South African agricultural production.

The report listed major strengths and weaknesses of South African agriculture.

Strengths include:

• An “advanced commercial farming sector.”

• “Adoption of new farming technologies including biotechnology, precision, and conservation agricultural practices.” The nation is “the biotechnology leader on the African continent and among the top ten largest producer of Genetically Engineered (GE) crops in the world.”

• “Resilience to changing climate, political, and social environments.”

• “Strong agribusinesses and supply chains.”

• A “well-developed retail sector.”

•  A “market-orientated agricultural economy.”


•  “Deteriorating infrastructure (roads, rail, water, electricity).”

•  “Safety and crime.”

•  “Rising input costs.”

•   “Policy uncertainty especially trade.”

•   Droughts: 90 percent of production is rain-fed. “The primary limitation to the agricultural sector is the availability of water, with uneven and unreliable rainfall and regular occurrences of drought.”

•  “Land reform policy.”

•   A “high unemployment rate.”

South Africa is a net food exporter. Total agricultural exports were valued at $10.2 billion in 2022, accounting for some 11.9 percent of total exports.

Imports for the same year were valued at $6.3 billion, 9.1 percent of the nation’s total imports.


Richard Smoley, contributing editor for Blue Book Services, Inc., has more than 40 years of experience in magazine writing and editing, and is the former managing editor of California Farmer magazine. A graduate of Harvard and Oxford universities, he has published 12 books.