By Karen Braun

FORT COLLINS, Colo., Oct 6 (Reuters)U.S. agricultural exports to China had a sluggish start to 2020 relative to the lofty expectations set forth by the Phase 1 trade agreement, but the August value soared substantially over that of the prior months owing to strong soybean shipments.

U.S. cotton exports to China hit a seven-and-a-half-year high in August, while corn shipments to the Asian country reached an all-time record. But the combined export value of cotton and corn, the No. 2 and 3 items in August, was less than half that of soybeans, emphasizing the importance of the oilseed in the trade relationship.

According to data published on Tuesday by the U.S. Census Bureau, the United States in August shipped $2.15 billion in agricultural and related products to China, topping the 2012 record for the month by 19%.

That speaks to sheer volume of items being shipped given the price difference between 2012 and 2020. The August 2012 export prices of U.S. soybeans, cotton and corn to China were between 50% and 85% higher than in this year.

The actual August tonnage of soybeans to China missed last year’s record for the month, falling 11% to 2.45 million tonnes. But that is more than was shipped in the previous six months combined and is the second-highest August volume to China.

The strong soybean performance is primarily what bolstered the record August. Soybeans accounted for 41% of all U.S. farm goods shipped to China in August, the best since January’s 52%. (https://tmsnrt.rs/2SxKehv)

Soybeans’ share was 19% or lower between February and July, which was close to normal for the later months but sharply below normal in the earlier ones. That explains why U.S. farm exports to China were so dismal versus average earlier in 2020, then