It's hard not to get excited about U.S. pork exports, which set new value and volume records in 2012, topping the highs set in 2011.  Pork exports reached nearly 5 billion pounds valued at $6.3 billion – a 3.5 percent increase from the prior year’s record, according to data from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).

“The export markets are providing a critical profit center for the industry at a time when producers have been challenged by high input costs,” said Tim Bierman, a wean-to-finish pork producer from Larrabee, Iowa, who leads the National Pork Board’s Trade Committee.

In 2012, exports accounted for more than 27 percent of total U.S. Pork  and pork variety meats. Currently, export values return more than $55 per head back to producers, up 1 percent from last year, Bierman says.

“The projection for U.S. Pork exports in 2013 calls for slight to steady growth,” Bierman said. “On the bullish side, U.S. Pork is an extremely versatile, high-quality protein that offers great value and is gaining market share in key export markets.”

In 2012, the top five value export markets for U.S. Pork included Japan ($1.986 billion), Mexico ($1.126 billion), China/Hong Kong ($886.2 million), Canada ($855.7 million) and South Korea ($421.1 million). U.S. Pork exports are building on the momentum of 2012, when one-year export records were set in key markets, including Mexico, Canada, Central/South America, Australia and New Zealand.

“While there are always challenges related to market access and logistics, the greatest opportunities for U.S. Pork in 2013 and beyond include new market access, developing new products to meet customer needs and in-country promotion of U.S. Pork to increase awareness and use,” Bierman said.

Some of the most promising opportunities include:

• Free-Trade Agreements – Three new free-trade agreements were implemented in 2012 with South Korea, Colombia and Panama.

“The Pork Checkoff and the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) are educating importers and processors in these nations on the benefits of U.S. Pork,” said Becca Hendricks, assistant vice president of international marketing for the Pork Checkoff.

“U.S. Pork is a great option in portable bento boxes for on-the-go meals,” said Hendricks, who notes that this market segment is growing quickly in Japan. To increase overall demand for U.S. Pork, the Pork Checkoff and USMEF are also promoting thick cuts of U.S. Pork like chops and roasts to Japanese consumers, who have traditionally favored very thin-sliced cuts of pork.

• Hams and more in Mexico – The United States exports a significant number of hams and other pork products to Mexico for further processing, Hendricks said. With large supermarkets growing in Mexico, a variety of promotions are helping to increase U.S. Pork demand in Mexico.

“All these efforts put more money in U.S. Pork producers’ pockets,” said Hendricks, citing a recent regression analysis conducted by Iowa State University. “The statistics show that when the value per hog exported increases $1, the live hog price per hundredweight increases by about 70 cents. U.S. Pork exports remain very important to producers’ bottom line.”

For more information, contact Becca Hendricks at or (515) 223-2621.