Underpinned by record production, U.S. pork exports completed a tremendous first quarter with new March records for volume and value, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Beef exports also trended higher year-over-year in March, establishing a record first quarter pace.
“March export results were very solid, especially given the COVID-19 related headwinds facing customers in many international markets at that time,” said USMEF president and CEO Dan Halstrom. “Stay-at-home orders created enormous challenges for many countries’ foodservice sectors, several key currencies slumped against the U.S. dollar and logistical obstacles surfaced in some key markets – yet demand for U.S. red meat proved very resilient.”
Strong demand from China/Hong Kong continued to drive U.S. pork exports to new heights, but March exports also increased significantly to Mexico, Japan and Canada. Export volume reached 291,459 metric tons, up 38% from a year ago and topping the previous record set in December 2019. Export value increased 47% to $764.2 million. Through the first quarter, pork exports increased 40% from a year ago to 838,118 metric tons, valued at $2.23 billion (up 52%).
Through the first quarter, exports accounted for 31.4% of total pork production and 28.5% for muscle cuts, up from 24.4% and 21.3%, respectively, in 2019. U.S. pork production was up 9% in the first quarter, with industry expansion fueled by strong international demand, especially in several key Asian markets still battling African swine fever (ASF).
Driven by solid growth in Japan, where U.S. beef is benefiting from reduced tariffs under the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement, as well as South Korea, Mexico, Canada and Taiwan, March beef exports totaled 115,308 metric tons, up 7% from a year ago, valued at $702.2 million – up 4% and the highest monthly value since July. First quarter beef exports climbed 9% from a year ago to 334,703 metric tons, valued at $2.06 billion (up 8%).
Exports accounted for 14% of first quarter beef production and 11.4% for muscle cuts, each up slightly year-over-year. U.S. beef production increased by 14% in March and 8% in the first quarter as export growth continued to make a critical contribution to carcass value even as the COVID-19 pandemic disrupted the global foodservice sector.