U.S. beef exports during July were down 9.5 percent compared to a year ago, but July also represented the largest monthly export volume of 2012, up 16 percent from June.

“With higher operating costs, both the pork and beef sectors are facing serious economic challenges,” said US Meat Export Federation president and CEO Philip Seng. “Tight beef supplies have pushed prices higher, and strong demand from our international customers is helping support higher beef cutout values. On the pork side, an increase in U.S. production has been offset by larger exports, helping drive the pork cutout to its peak in late June. With these factors in mind, it is absolutely critical that we remain aggressive with our international promotions and continue to capture the highest return possible on the products we export. Our pork and beef export value totals continue to outpace last year’s records, which is certainly a positive sign.”

According to statistics released by USDA and compiled by USMEF, July beef export volume totaled 108,971 metric tons, down 9.5 percent from July 2011 but up 16 percent from June. Export value in July totaled $513.5 million, slightly higher than a year ago and up 11 percent from June. Year-to-date exports through July remained 11 percent below the record pace of 2011 in volume, at 659,433 metric tons, but increased 4 percent in value to $3.17 billion.

July beef exports equated to 11 percent of production for muscle cuts and 14.3 percent when including variety meat. The respective ratios for January through July were 9.8 percent and 12.8 percent. Beef export value per head of fed slaughter totaled $235.18 in July — down less than 1 percent from the record set in July 2011. For January through July, per-head export value averaged $212.73 — topping last year’s pace by 7 percent.

Despite lower export volumes to some key markets for January to July, beef export values increased to Canada (down 12 percent in volume to 97,326 metric tons; up 7 percent in value to $639.3 million), the Middle East (down 5 percent to 91,348 metric tons; up 8 percent to $201.5 million), Japan (down 3 percent to 91,132 metric tons; up 19 percent to $600.2 million) and the ASEAN region (down 6 percent to 38,502 metric tons; up 14 percent to $160 million).

Markets posting increases in both volume and value included Russia (up 7 percent to 44,461 metric tons and up 38 percent to $184.7 million) and Central and South America (up 35 percent to 20,458 metric tons and up 79 percent to $76.1 million). Exports to Hong Kong were steady in volume at 29,776 metric tons and up 22 percent in value at $161.7 million.