Export value for both U.S. beef and pork reached new heights in 2014, posting double-digit gains over the previous year’s totals, according to statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

Beef export value was $7.13 billion – an increase of 16 percent (and nearly $1 billion) over the previous record set in 2013. Export volume was just under 1.2 million metric tons (mt) – which was short of the 2011 record, but up 2 percent year-over-year.

Pork export value totaled $6.67 billion, an increase of 10 percent year-over-year, breaking the 2012 record by 6 percent. Pork export volume increased 2 percent to 2.18 million mt. The volume record is 2.62 million mt, set in 2012.

Exports overcame significant challenges to reach these milestones, including market access restrictions in Russia and China, an appreciating U.S. dollar and, most recently, shipping difficulties related to a labor dispute in the West Coast ports.

In December, beef export volume slipped 2 percent year-over-year to 100,270 mt, though value still increased 17 percent to $643.2 million. December pork export volume was down 5 percent to 183,498 mt, but value still achieved a slight increase to $541.3 million.

“2014 was an outstanding year for red meat exports, but headwinds continued to mount late in the year,” said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. “The West Coast port congestion is extremely troubling, because the delays faced by exporters in December have become even more severe in 2015. If this dispute is not resolved soon, the meat industry will have to win back long-term customers who still want our product, but have no choice but to seek alternative suppliers.”

The situation is especially critical because Asian markets take a large volume of chilled U.S. beef and pork, valued at more than $2 billion in 2014.

The strength in international demand for U.S. red meat was showcased in 2014, as customers paid record prices for U.S. beef and pork while still purchasing larger volumes. This is especially noteworthy because U.S. pork prices were higher than EU prices for most of the year, and U.S. cattle prices were significantly higher than prices in Australia and all other major beef-exporting countries. Exports continue to generate strong returns for producers, as beef export value per head of fed slaughter averaged a record $297.68 in 2014, up $52.72 from the previous year. December export value was $340.69 per head, up $61.53 from a year ago. Pork export value per head slaughtered also set a record of $62.45 in 2014 (up $8.50 from a year ago), despite slipping slightly in December ($54.94, down $0.33).

“These exceptional results illustrate the strength of the international markets,” Seng said. “In the past five years, per-head export value has more than doubled for beef producers and has increased more than 60 percent for pork.”

Beef exports in 2014 equated to 14 percent of total production (muscle cuts plus variety meat) and 11 percent of muscle cuts alone, up from 13 percent and 10 percent, respectively, a year ago. Pork exports equated to 26.5 percent of total pork production and 22 percent of muscle cuts alone, up slightly from 2013.

Asian markets propel beef export results

U.S. beef performed exceptionally well in key Asian markets in 2014, including:

  • Exports to Japan increased 3 percent in volume (241,129 mt) and 14 percent in value ($1.58 billion). Value eclipsed the 2003 (pre-BSE) mark ($1.39 billion) for the first time, though volume was still below the 2003 total.
  • Hong Kong set new annual records as export volume increased 19 percent to 154,520 mt and value surged 40 percent to $1.15 billion.
  • Exports to South Korea set a new annual value record of $847.4 million, up 39 percent. Volume increased 12 percent to 117,567 mt.
  • Taiwan also set a new annual value record of $293.6 million (up 15 percent), while volume increased 5 percent to 33,804 mt.

In Mexico, exports increased 12 percent in volume to 242,566 mt and 26 percent in value to $1.17 billion. As USMEF has previously noted, however, issues with the 2013 data suggest these year-over-year increases may be overstated.

Mexico, Korea, Colombia drive pork export success

Russia’s ban on EU pork (which has now lasted more than a full year) and its August suspension of pork imports from the U.S. and Canada had a significant impact on the global pork market in 2014. But U.S. pork exports held relatively strong, buoyed by leading volume market Mexico. Exports to Mexico set volume and value records for the third consecutive year, reaching 680,843 mt (up 9 percent) valued at $1.56 billion (up 27 percent). Other highlights include:

  • Exports to South Korea soared 36 percent in volume to 135,396 mt and 61 percent in value to $444.6 million.
  • In Colombia, exports have more than doubled since 2012 and set new volume and value records in five consecutive years. In 2014, exports increased 39 percent in volume to 47,441 mt and 52 percent in value to $134.11 million.
  • Although pork exports to Canada were lower in volume (207,362 mt, - 9 percent), export value set a new record of $904.7 million (up 7 percent).

Lamb exports struggle late in 2014

U.S. lamb exports were sluggish for the second consecutive month in December and finished the year down 16 percent in volume (10,407 mt) and 3 percent in value ($27.33 million). Exports increased to top markets Mexico (8,733 mt, up 1 percent; $14.8 million, up 4 percent) and the Caribbean (628 mt, up 14 percent; $4.5 million, up 8 percent). Gains were also posted in emerging markets such as the United Arab Emirates, Panama and the Philippines.

Complete 2014 export results are available on the USMEF statistics webpage