U.S. pork, beef exports sizzle in first quarter

Exports of U.S. pork and beef got off to a hot start this year. In fact, pork exports set new records for volume and value in March at 291,549 metric tons (up 38%) valued at $764.2 million (up 47%), the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) reported.

Meanwhile, March beef exports increased 7% to 115,308 metric tons, valued at $702.2 million.

“March export results were very solid, especially given the COVID-19 related headwinds facing customers in many international markets at that time,” said Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO.

Overall, U.S. meat exports finished the first quarter valued at $2.23 billion for pork (up 40% from a year ago) and $2.06 billion for beef (up 9%). Top growth markets during that time included China/Hong Kong for pork and Japan, where the U.S. benefited from reduced tariffs, along with South Korea, Mexico, Canada and Taiwan for beef.

Temporary closures of U.S. meat packing plants due to COVID-19 were not reflected in the first quarter data. And the future remains unclear as those issues persist.

“The main question is what happens with exports,” Steve Meyer, ag economist with Kerns & Associates, said during a webinar hosted by the National Pork Board.

Meyer believes that, while some U.S. grocery stores experienced temporary shortages of certain meat cuts in recent weeks, the market should continue to dictate the flow of sales.

“Will I be able to buy pork? It depends on what your definition of a shortage is and who your supplier is,” said Meyer, who assures consumers the U.S. will not run out of meat despite some temporary, regionalized shortages. “We’ll get back to enough production for both (local and international) markets.

“Maintaining the export flow is very important for the future,” he continued. “If not, we’ll be shooting ourselves in the foot.”

Exports accounted for about $64 per head of hogs and $308 per head of cattle sold in the U.S. in March, according to USMEF. That added value from exports remains crucial to farmers, particularly at a time when many face losses.

“These are truly unprecedented circumstances, creating an uncertain global business climate,” Halstrom added. “The U.S. meat industry has spent decades developing a loyal and well-informed customer base throughout the world, which has embraced the quality and value delivered by U.S. red meat. Their commitment to U.S. products during this crisis is much appreciated.”