U.S. beef exports set a new value record in 2012, topping highs set in 2011, according to end-of-year statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

The achievement was more significant in light of challenging export conditions that included non-science-based trade barriers in several key markets and an anemic economy in certain regions.

“The export markets are a critical profit center for the industry at a time when the industry is challenged by high input costs and a historically low herd size,” said Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO. “2012 saw record highs for per-head export values for both pork and beef at a time when those returns were sorely needed by producers.”

The value of beef exports for the year rose 2 percent to a record-high $5.51 billion on 12 percent lower volumes (1.13 million mt).

The per-head export value for beef hit $216.73, a $10.36 increase over 2011. Contributing to that was a new monthly record value of $242.65 set in December.

For the year, U.S. beef exports accounted for 12.7 percent of total beef production and 9.8 percent of muscle cut production. This compares to 14.2 percent and 11 percent, respectively, in 2011.

Beef Records Set in 2012

In addition to the new standards noted above, one-year export records were set in several key export markets:

  • Russia: 80,408 mt (10 percent increase) valued at $307.5 million (20 percent increase)
  • Hong Kong: 65,033 mt (28 percent increase) valued at $339.5 million (43 percent increase)
  • Central/South America: 33,891 mt (31 percent increase) valued at $134.1 million (57 percent increase)
  • Canada: $1.177 billion (14 value increase even though volume dipped 6 percent to 180,015 mt)

Top 5 Beef Value Export Markets for 2012

  • Canada – $1.177 billion
  • Japan – $1.03 billion (surpassing the $1 billion mark for the first time since 2003)
  • Mexico – $822.4 million
  • South Korea – $582 million
  • Hong Kong – $339.5 million

2013 Outlook

Looking ahead, the outlook for 2013 appears positive for both the U.S. beef and pork industries, according to Seng.

“There are many factors that go into projecting 12 months into the future, but as we continue to focus our efforts on markets that offer the greatest potential for growth, we are optimistic that 2013 will give us the opportunity to maintain the momentum we have seen in pork exports while rebounding in beef,” he said.The recent opening of Japan to U.S. beef under 30 months of age contributes to a projected growth in beef exports of 4 percent in volume (to 1.17 million mt) valued at more than $6 billion. That total may be tempered if issues with exports to Russia are not resolved.

Other Facts of Note

December beef exports were down 16 percent versus the prior year at 90,789 mt while value was down just 3 percent at $461.2 million. Export gains were seen for the month in Canada, South Korea, Hong Kong, Philippines and Central/South America.

Complete export results for pork, beef and lamb are available online.

Editor’s notes:

  • Export statistics refer to both muscle cuts and variety meat unless otherwise noted
  • One metric ton (mt) = 2,204.622 pounds