According to data released this week by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), beef exports trended higher year-over-year in March, establishing a record first quarter pace. Driven by solid growth in Japan, where U.S. beef is benefiting from reduced tariffs under the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement, as well as South Korea, Mexico, Canada and Taiwan, March beef exports totaled 115,308 metric tons, up 7% from a year ago. Export value for the month of March was the highest since July 2019 at $702.2 million, up 4%. Total first quarter beef exports climbed 9% from a year ago to 334,703 metric tons, valued at $2.06 billion.
Beef export value per head of fed slaughter was $308.21 in March, down 8% from the very high average of the same time last year. For the first quarter, per-head export value increased 2% to $317.06. March beef exports accounted for 13.9% of total production and 11.3% for beef muscle cuts, down from 14.8% and 12%, respectively, a year ago. First quarter exports accounted for 14% of beef production and 11.4% for muscle cuts, each up slightly year-over-year. U.S. beef production increased by 14% in March and 8% in the first quarter as export growth continued to make a critical contribution to carcass value even as the pandemic disrupted the global foodservice sector.
USMEF Chief Executive Officer Dan Holstrom said some recent events, including temporary closures of several U.S. processing plants, are not reflected in the first quarter export data. He cautioned that April and May exports could slow as a result.