U.S. pork exports will have a challenge to exceed the tremendous gains made last year, but it is expected that they will hold their ground.
“We are encouraged by the first few months of the year,” Phillip Seng, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (MEF), told Pork Network. While he anticipates the final trend line may be flat, “it would still be our second best year on record.”
MEF is conducting its annual meeting in New Orleans this week, and pork, beef and lamb producers, committees and staff are meeting to discuss short- and long-term trends and programs.
For the first quarter of this year, U.S. pork exports were up 8 percent in volume and 20 percent in value compared to the same period in 2011. For March, exports totaled 60 percent of U.S. hog slaughter and accounted for $60 per head of slaughter, reports Danita Rodibaugh, MEF chairman and a pork producer from Rensselaer, Ind. Both are all-time monthly records. “As a pork producer, I am excited to see our pork exports surpass the levels we achieved in 2011,” she notes. “These results are important to the bottom line of our operation and thousands like it across the nation.”
Combine muscle cuts and variety meats and the United States now exports about 28 percent of its annual pork production. “It is one of our nation’s greatest long-term success stories,” Rodibaugh points out.
“Overall, we have our challenges, but also opportunities,” Seng says. He looks for Mexico, Russia and Canada to offer the greatest potential for pork this year, while the Asian markets will likely soften compared to 2011.
Looking ahead, MEF’s regional market directors offered their perspectives.
The major driver of U.S. pork sales in 2011 was a surge in Asia’s demand. For various reasons China, Japan and South Korea all faced significant pork shortages. “Add it up the pork production from the major countries and they were down 2 million tons of production at a time of increased demand,” notes Joel Haggard, MEF’s senior vice president, Asia Pacific.
The ripple effect of disease issues in China and South Korea along with Japan’s earthquake in the spring of 2011, particularly stepped up demand for U.S. pork in the second half of the year. “This year, production normalcy will return to this area,” Haggard notes.
China is on track to have ample supplies of pork, unless production problems arise. “We have tempered our expectations for continued growth in China in 2012,” Haggard says. “However, longer run, we are looking at incredible opportunity as China faces sustainability challenges for production.”