U.S. meat exports continued to soar this year, based on the most recent sales data, but it may not be enough to bring profitability back to the pork industry.

Beef exports in September jumped 30.2 percent in value and 16.6 percent in volume compared to last year.

Meanwhile, the value of pork exports in September increased 10 percent compared to last year even though the volume of exports slipped 3.6 percent.

“On the beef side, three markets stand out – Japan (up 29 percent compared to last year), the Middle East (up 39 percent), and South Korea (up 136 percent),” said Dan Halstrom, senior vice president of marketing and communications for the U.S. Meat Export Federation. “On the pork side, we saw dramatic growth in China.”

Pork exports would’ve increased more if not for a 5 percent tariff put in place in August by Mexico.

The tariff was in retaliation to the U.S. not honoring a North American Free Trade Agreement provision that would allow Mexican truckers to haul goods into the U.S. Pork exports to Mexico subsequently declined by 20 percent since the tariff went into effect.

Overall, U.S. beef exports have increased 27 percent in value and the value of pork exports is up 9 percent through the first three quarters of the year.

“The price continues to go up so we’re getting more money for our products,” Halstrom said.

Unfortunately, the price of other commodities – such as feed ingredients and energy-related products - also increased this fall and tightened the margins of most livestock producers.

The average return for a pig went from $30 in September to minus-$4 in October, according to Iowa State University. “It changed in a hurry,” Ron Plain, ag economist at the University of Missouri, said of hog returns. “It was the biggest month-to-month decline ever.”

Plain blamed the tighter margins in the livestock industry on higher feed costs and softer livestock prices.

“We made money (in the hog industry) from March through September,” Plain said. “But I’m not looking for any more profitable months this year.”

Plain predicted hog prices will creep back up late this year and into 2011.

Source: Illinois Farm Bureau