U.S. beef and pork exports reach new heights

Export value shatters previous records as international demand stays resilient.

July 6, 2021

4 Min Read
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Fueled by impressive growth in a wide range of destinations, U.S. beef and pork export value shattered previous records in May, according to data released by U.S. Department of Agriculture and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Beef exports also reached a new volume high in May, while pork export volume was the third largest on record.

"The outstanding May performance is especially gratifying when you consider where red meat exports stood a year ago," noted USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. "The industry faced unprecedented, COVID-related obstacles at all levels of the supply chain, and a very uncertain international business climate. These challenges are still not behind us, but international demand has been very resilient, and the U.S. industry has shown a tremendous commitment to serving its global customers."

Halstrom cautioned that U.S. labor availability remains a major concern and limitation for the industry, and exporters continue to face significant obstacles when shipping product overseas. Due to the ongoing, fluid impact of COVID-19, foodservice restrictions also continue to affect several key markets where dine-in service is either suspended or subject to capacity limits and shorter hours, and tourism has not yet returned in many countries.

"USMEF remains optimistic that international demand will remain strong in the second half of 2021, but the road ahead is not an easy one," Halstrom said. "The U.S. industry must continue to be innovative and aggressive in defending existing market share, while also expanding our customer base by responding to COVID-driven changes in the marketplace and shifts in consumer trends and preferences."

Pork exports third largest on record

May pork exports totaled 283,617 mt, up 16% from a year ago and the third largest on record. Export value exceeded $800 million for the first time in May, climbing 31% to $813.2 million, led by the largest exports of the year to Mexico and strong growth in Central America, the Dominican Republic, Colombia and the Philippines. For January through May, pork exports were slightly below last year's record pace at 1.34 million mt, but export value increased 3% to $3.63 billion.

Pork export value per head slaughtered averaged $77.64 in May, up 7% from a year ago. Through May, the per-head average was $66.16 (down 2%). Exports accounted for 38.1% of total May pork production, up nearly 2% from a year ago, while the share of muscle cuts exported was 33.8% (up from 33.3%).

Though demand has softened from the enormous totals posted a year ago, USMEF said China/Hong Kong is still the largest destination for U.S. pork in 2021. This is partly due to sustained demand for variety meat, for which exports through May were up 3% to 136,577 mt, with value up 9% to $332 million. However, USMEF said a slowdown in muscle cuts meant total exports were down 22% to 408,896 mt, valued at $952.7 million (down 24%).

“The continued decline in China’s pork and live hog prices suggests this trend is likely to accelerate in coming months, underscoring the importance of further export growth to other destinations,” USMEF added.

Beef exports up 68% from last year

While May beef exports were expected to far exceed last year's low totals, export volume soared to a record 133,440 metric tons (mt), up 68% from a year ago, and value increased 88% to $904.3 million. Driven by record-large exports to South Korea, continued growth in China and a strong rebound in Japan and Taiwan, May marked the third consecutive monthly value record for beef exports, which had never exceeded $800 million before March 2021. For January through May, exports reached 587,838 mt, up 15% from a year ago, while value increased 22% to $3.84 billion.

According to USMEF, beef export value equated to $433.18 per head of fed slaughter in May, up 53% from a year ago and breaking the previous record by more than $65. The January-May average was $361.29 per head, up 13%. Exports accounted for 17.6% of total May beef production and 14.9% for muscle cuts only, up dramatically from the year-ago ratios of 12.5% and 10.5%.

Beef exports to China totaled 16,472 mt in May, only slightly trailing the April record, valued at $130.2 million.

“With expanded beef access to China in place for more than one year under the Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement, exports to the world’s largest beef import market continue to climb,” said USMEF.  

January-May beef exports to China reached 64,763 mt valued at $474.7 million – each up about 1,200% year-over-year and already establishing new annual records. The United States is now the largest supplier of grain-fed beef to China and accounted for 4.4% of China’s total beef imports in the first five months of the year.

A detailed summary of January-May red meat export results, including market-specific highlights, is available on the USMEF website.

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