Despite declines in beef tonnage exports last year, beef exports helped support strong U.S. cattle prices throughout 2012. That’s because the dollar value of beef exports last year remained on a record pace. Increasinly, beef exports are a critical driver of domestic cash cattle prices.

October export data saw a continuation of the year’s trend. Beef export values increased 10 percent over 2011 despite a 4 percent decline in volume (101,447 metric tons). Through the January-October period, beef export volume was down 11 percent (951,886 metric tons) compared to 2011, while export values of $4.6 billion remained 2 percent ahead of the 2011 record pace.

“Considering the economic headwinds we face in several markets, beef export value is holding up extremely well — especially on a per-head basis,” said USMEF president and CEO Philip Seng. “For livestock producers who are facing some very tough obstacles, the export markets are truly a source of optimism.”

October beef exports accounted for 10 percent of beef muscle-cut production and 12.6 percent when including variety meat. This compared to 11 percent and 13.9 percent, respectively, in October 2011. For January-October, exports accounted for 9.8 percent of muscle-cut production and 12.7 percent including variety meat — down from 11 percent and 14.2 percent, respectively, from that period last year. Export value per head of fed slaughter was 6 percent higher than a year ago, both in October ($222.03) and for January-October ($214.51).

Exports to Canada were the largest since August 2011, totaling 19,129 metric tons (up 35 percent from a year ago) valued at $123.2 million (up 66 percent). This pushed the January-October totals to 144,754 metric tons (down 9 percent) valued at $952.8 million (up 11 percent).

Japan continued its strong recent performance with October purchases of 12,829 metric tons valued at $91.8 million. This was up only slightly from last year’s volume but 25 percent higher in value. For January-October, export volume to Japan was steady at 134,036 metric tons while export value surged 24 percent to $898 million.

Exports to leading volume market Mexico continued to struggle as high prices have negatively impacted Mexico’s total beef consumption. Exports to Korea have also been well below last year’s pace, primarily due to record-high domestic beef production. This has impacted demand for beef imports not only from the United States but also from other suppliers such as Australia and New Zealand.