U.S. beef and pork exports opened 2021 below the large volumes posted a year ago, according to January data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).
Beef exports totaled 105,047 metric tons (mt) in January, down 2% from a year ago, while value slipped 3% to $653 million. The decline was due mainly to lower beef variety meat shipments, as muscle cut exports were steady with January 2020 at 81,398 mt, valued at $584.4 million (down 1%) and accounted for a larger share of production than a year ago. January beef exports were very strong to South Korea and continued to gain momentum in China. Following a down year in 2020, exports also rebounded to the Middle East.
January pork exports totaled 248,656 mt, down 9% from a year ago but slightly above USMEF’s projections. Export value was down 13% to $642.8 million. Pork muscle cut exports were down 11% in volume (208,234 mt) and 15% in value ($551.3 million), while pork variety meat shipments trended modestly higher than a year ago. While pork exports to China/Hong Kong declined as expected, exports to Japan increased in January and demand was very strong in Central America, the Philippines and the Caribbean.
U.S. lamb exports climbed 7% in January to 1,027 mt but value fell 43% to $1.2 million, as volume growth was driven by lamb variety meat demand in Mexico and Canada. Lamb muscle cut exports trended higher than a year ago to Bermuda and Japan.
USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom said January represented a fairly solid start to 2021, but cautioned that exports still face COVID-related obstacles and significant transportation and labor challenges.
“As key destinations for U.S. red meat roll out COVID vaccination programs, the outlook for 2021 is optimistic, with retail meat demand remaining strong and the expectation that foodservice will rebound in more and more regions,” Halstrom said. “But transportation challenges are currently a dominant concern, particularly the congestion and container shortages at our West Coast ports where shorthanded crews are handling record-large cargo volumes. Labor is also at a premium in processing plants, which affects the industry’s ability to fully capitalize on demand for certain labor-intensive cuts and variety meat items.
“Although the global foodservice sector still has a long recovery ahead, international demand for U.S. red meat remains impressive and resilient,” Halstrom said. “But a range of logistical challenges must be overcome in order to fully satisfy this demand.”