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

The record export values were called a significant achievement 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, on the beef side, 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 metric tons).

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 2012, 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.

One-year export records were set in the following beef export markets:

• Russia — 80,408 metric tons (10 percent increase) valued at $307.5 million (20 percent increase)

• Hong Kong — 65,033 metric tons (28 percent increase) valued at $339.5 million (43 percent increase)

• Central/South America — 33,891 metric tons (31 percent increase) valued at $134.1 million (57 percent increase)

• Canada — $1.177 billion (14 percent value increase though volume dipped 6 percent to 180,015 metric tons).

Pork exports set both volume and value records last year, reaching 2.26 million metric tons valued at $6.3 billion, a 3.5 percent increase over the prior year’s record. The per-head export value of U.S. pork set another record in 2012, reaching $55.87, up 1 percent from 2011.

Seng says the outlook for 2013 is positive for both beef and pork exports.

“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 metric tons) valued at more than $6 billion. However, that total may be tempered if issues with exports to Russia are not resolved.