U.S. red meat exports closed the first half of the year on a strong note, according to data released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture 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. Global meat demand has remained resilient in many regions even as the world grapples with the Delta variant of COVID.
"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."
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.
Beef exports were led by an exceptional performance in South Korea, rapid growth in China, strong demand in Japan and Taiwan and a rebound in shipments to Mexico and Central and South America.
According to USMEF, 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% 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%). Beef exports to South Korea reached 20,419 mt in June, up 36% from a year ago, valued at $169.4 million (up 55%).
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%).
While China/Hong Kong remains the largest destination for U.S. pork in 2021, first-half export growth was led by Mexico and Central America, along with a sharp increase in shipments to the Philippines and Colombia. Exports to Mexico in June came in at 70,582 mt, up 45% from a year ago, while export value more than doubled to $149.4 million (up 112%). Exports also increased to Japan and South Korea.
While China/Hong Kong remains the largest destination for U.S. pork exports in 2021, first-half exports were down 22% from a year ago in both volume (471,565 mt) and value ($1.1 billion). With growing demand in these markets, USMEF noted that exports to China/Hong Kong accounted for just under 30% of total U.S. export volume, after reaching 39% in the first half of 2020.
Pork export value equated to $65.44 per head slaughtered in June, up 42% from a year ago. Per-head value averaged $67.04 in the first half, up 5%. June exports accounted for 29.4% of total pork production and 25.5% of muscle cuts, both up significantly from a year ago. In the first half, exports accounted for 31.4% of total pork production (steady with last year) and 28.1% for muscle cuts (down one-half percentage point from a year ago).
A detailed summary of first-half export results for U.S. beef, pork and lamb, including market-specific highlights, is available from the USMEF website.