While still impacted by severe congestion in West Coast ports, February exports of U.S. beef bounced back to some degree from the totals posted in January, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), a contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program.

Conditions are steadily improving on the West Coast, where congestion related to a labor dispute slowed container traffic during the last four months. But the tentative contract agreement that eased tensions on the West Coast was not reached until Feb. 20, so the congestion still had a significant impact on February beef exports.

“We won’t see much relief from the shipping backlog until March results are in, and container traffic in some ports still has not returned to normal,” said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. “However, the new labor contract agreement definitely sent positive signals to our Asian buyers and allowed the U.S. meat industry to begin putting this crisis behind us. The momentum exports regained in February is encouraging, and we’re looking forward to further improvement when March results are published.”

In addition to port congestion, February exports also continued to face other significant challenges, including the strong U.S. dollar, large supplies from key competitors, and market access barriers.

February beef exports totaled about 183 million pounds – down 3 percent year-on-year but a 4 percent improvement over January. Export value of $535.3 million was up 12 percent from a year ago and 6 percent higher than in January. January-February volume was 359 million pounds, down 11 percent from the first two months of 2014, though value – at $1.04 billion – remained 4 percent ahead of last year’s pace.

Japan, Korea, Mexico fuel results

February beef exports accounted for 14 percent of total production and 11 percent for muscle cuts only – ratios similar to a year ago, but higher than in January 2015. Export value-per-head of fed slaughter was $318.26 in February (up 15 percent from a year ago) and $293.47 for January-February (up 12 percent).

Beef exports to Japan rebounded significantly in February, up 11 percent from a year ago in volume to 35.1 million pounds and 23 percent in value to $112.6 million. For the two-month period, exports to Japan, at 65.6 million pounds, were still down 1 percent in volume from a year ago but increased 11 percent in value to $204.1 million.

The trend was similar for South Korea, as February exports climbed 16 percent in volume to 24 million pounds and 24 percent in value to $80.4 million. January-February exports, at 39.6 million pounds, were still 7 percent lower in volume but increased 3 percent in value to $137.9 million.

Mexico posted another strong month, driven by large beef variety-meat exports. February exports to Mexico were 40.9 million pounds – up 7 percent year-on-year -- valued at $93.6 million, up 5 percent. Two-month totals were up 3 percent in volume to 85.5 million pounds and 9 percent in value to $198.7 million.