U.S. agricultural exports have shown continued strength so far in 2012, but a rise in imports has narrowed the trade balance somewhat.

According to USDA’s monthly ag-trade summary, the value of U.S. agricultural exports during calendar year 2012 to date totals $23 billion, compared with $24.2 billion for the same period last year. Imports during 2012 so far have totaled $17 billion, compared with $15.3 billion during the same period in 2011.

For 2011, total agricultural exports reached a value of $115.8 billion, while imports totaled $81.8 billion, leaving a positive trade balance of $33.9 billion.

According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), February beef export volume, at 87,131 metric tons, was 3 percent lower than a year ago but export value increased 10 percent during the same period to $409 million. Through the first two months of the year, beef exports totaled 176,585 metric tons, a two percent decline from the same period last year, but the value of exports increased 12 percent over the same period last year to $815 million.

USDA’s meat and livestock trade data show these month-to-month trends for beef exports and imports. The data set also shows a decline in imports of live cattle, with a total of 259,696 cattle imported into the United States during the first two months of this year, compared with 344,745 head during the same period last year.

According to USMEF, February beef exports equated to 12 percent of production when including both muscle cuts and variety meat and 9 percent for muscle cuts only. This compares to 12.9 percent and 10 percent, respectively, in February 2011. Export value equated to $208.05 per head of fed slaughter, up 14 percent from last year’s $182.12.
Other highlights from USMEF include:

January and February beef exports to Russia were up 58 percent in volume at 9,297 metric tons, and tripled in value to $38.2 million compared with last year. When adjusted for muscle cuts only, volume increased by131 percent and export value was up 238 percent. USMEF expects beef exports to Russia to benefit from a higher muscle cut tariff rate quota, which was increased from 41,700 metric tons in 2011 to 60,000 metric tons this year.
Mexico was the leading destination for U.S. beef in terms of volume during January and February, at 38,070 metric tons, and value at $170.6 million. This represents a decrease in volume of 6 percent, but a 13 percent increase in value.

Exports to Canada, which was the only $1 billion market for U.S. beef in 2011, slipped 3 percent in volume to 24,072 metric tons but increased 11 percent in value to $136.9 million for the first two months of this year.

January and February exports to Japan – still limited to beef from cattle 20 months of age or younger – were down 5 percent in volume at 19,344 metric tons, but increased 16 percent in value at $123.6 million.