Expectations for gains in beef and pork exports this year have been optimistic, following up on the momentum from last year and prospects for more increases in red meat production this year. The first quarter of 2017 has not disappointed.

Pork export tonnage was up 17% during January-March compared to a year earlier and beef exports increased 22%. The World Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) released by the USDA-World Agriculture Outlook Board (WAOB) are calling for beef exports to be up 10% this year, or 256 million pounds (carcass weight equivalent pounds).

The increase in beef exports during the first quarter alone was 117 million pounds. In the case of pork, the WAOB is calling for exports to be up 10% this year, or 514 million pounds. The first quarter increase in pork exports has accounted for 210 million pounds of that gain. By mid-year, the majority of the gains in beef and pork exports should be in place, relative to 2016.

The highlight of red meat export shipments in March was the amount of pork sold to Mexico. Pork shipments to Mexico in March were up 40%, a record for the month of March, topping the prior high set in 2015 by close to 20%. Shipments of U.S. pork to Mexico during the first three months of 2017 set records for each of those months.

Last year, Mexico accounted for 31% of all U.S. pork exported tonnage. That share has ratcheted up to 33% for the first quarter of this year. Even if the increase in sales to Mexico moderates during the spring and summer quarters and holds steady with a year ago during the last quarter of 2017, shipments of U.S. pork to Mexico will be up 10% from last year’s.