Beef Exports Solid Despite Production Challenges

June 18, 2020

April proved to be a solid month for U.S. beef exports despite coronavirus-related interruptions in production and declining purchasing power of some key trading partners, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Beef exports were below last April’s large totals, down 6% to 98,613 metric tons (mt), but still topped $600 million in value. Exports achieved outstanding growth in Japan, where U.S. beef is benefiting from reduced tariffs under the U.S.-Japan Trade Agreement, and trended higher to China following late-March implementation of the U.S.-China Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement. For January through April, beef exports totaled 433,316 mt, up 5% from a year ago, valued at $2.66 billion.  

“Considering all the challenges the U.S. red meat industry faced in April, export results were encouraging,” said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. “Exporters lost several days of slaughter and processing due to COVID-19, and shipments to Mexico and some other Latin American markets declined due to slumping currencies and the imposition of stay-at-home orders. But despite these significant headwinds, global demand for U.S. beef and pork remained strong.”  

With lower April slaughter numbers, beef export value per head of fed slaughter climbed to a record $363.35, up 19% from April 2019. For the first four months of the year, per-head export value increased 5% to $326.47. April beef exports accounted for 15.9% of total production and 13.5% for beef muscle cuts, up from 13.5% and 11.1%, respectively. Through April, exports accounted for 14.4% of total beef production and 11.9% for muscle cuts, up from 13.8% and 11.2%, respectively, last year.  

While May export results likely will reflect similar obstacles, Halstrom noted that red meat production continues to recover, setting the stage for a strong second half of 2020.