U.S. red meat exports closed the first half of the year on a strong note, according to data released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF). Although volume and value eased from the enormous totals posted in April and May, export value was still the highest on record for the month of June and first-half shipments established a record pace for both beef and pork exports.
“USMEF had expected a continued strong performance in June for both beef and pork exports, despite significant headwinds,” said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom.
“2021 has presented many formidable challenges for the U.S. industry, including a very tight labor situation, logistical obstacles that slowed product movement and foodservice restrictions in many key markets. So the fact that first-half exports reached record levels speaks to the loyalty of our international customer base, strong consumer demand for high-quality, nutritious U.S. red meat and the U.S. industry’s ability to adapt to a challenging and rapidly changing business climate. We have also seen a welcome rebound in beef and pork variety meat volumes, which had been down last year,” said Halstrom.
June beef exports totaled 112,249 metric tons (mt), up 42% from a year ago when exports were still hampered by a COVID-related slowdown in production. Export value was $804.4 million, up 68% from a year ago and the third highest on record after April and May of this year. First-half exports reached 700,087 mt, up 18% from a year ago, valued at $4.64 billion (up 28%). Compared to 2018, the record year for U.S. beef exports, first-half results were up 6% in volume and 15% in value.
Pork exports reached 238,935 mt in June, up 15% from a year ago, while export value climbed 35% to $696.8 million. First-half pork exports topped last year’s record pace by 1% at 1.58 million mt, valued at $4.33 billion (up 7%).
Despite foodservice restrictions, Asian demand for U.S. beef proves resilient
Beef export value equated to $351.18 per head of fed slaughter in June, up 60% from last June’s COVID-impacted average. The first-half per-head average was $359.49, up 20% from a year ago. June exports accounted for 13.6% of total beef production and 11.5% of muscle cuts, both dramatically higher than a year ago. In the first half, exports accounted for 14.7% of total beef production and 12.5% for muscle cuts, each up about 1.5 percent points from a year ago.
Japan was the leading destination for June beef exports in both volume (24,864 mt, up 20% from a year ago) and value (up 28%). This pushed first-half exports slightly ahead of last year’s pace at 156,287 mt (up 1%), while value increased 6% to $1.05 billion. Japan’s imports of chilled U.S. beef were up 8% in the first half, including growth in the short plate and chuck/round categories, with U.S. beef accounting for 51% of Japan’s chilled import volume. Retail demand for U.S. beef remains extremely strong in Japan, where restaurants in several prefectures are required to close by 8:00 p.m. and restricted from serving alcohol.
Beef exports to South Korea reached 20,419 mt in June, up 36% from a year ago, valued at $169.4 million (up 55%). Exports to Korea established a torrid pace in the first half, climbing 22% from a year ago to 142,300 mt, and Korea was the leading value destination for U.S. beef at $1.08 billion (up 31%). Restaurants in Korea are also subject to shorter operating hours and other restrictions, but foodservice demand in Korea has weathered the pandemic fairly well through sharply higher takeout and delivery sales, while retail and e-commerce demand remains strong. Korea’s imports of chilled U.S. beef were up 25%, with the U.S. capturing 66% of Korea’s chilled beef market.
Strong momentum continued for U.S. beef in China, with June exports holding close to the May total at 16,238 mt. Capitalizing on improved market access that took effect in March 2020 under the Phase One Economic and Trade Agreement, first-half beef exports to China increased more than 1,000% from a year ago in both volume (81,001 mt) and value ($622.5 million). China recently imposed extensive travel restrictions t