WASHINGTON and DES MOINES, Iowa – Exports of U.S. beef are leaving the country at a record pace, according to the latest meat export data from USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation. Iowa State University livestock economist Lee Schulz says that’s noteworthy.
“We’ve really seen some strength in beef exports, especially if you look at it from a year to date standpoint; we’re actually above 2013 levels,” Schultz observes. “I think that points to the strength in the export market, even as we’ve seen higher and higher prices. That’s started to impact, but if we look back earlier in the year, we’ve actually seen some large increases from a year-over-year standpoint. So really, we’re looking at pretty strong beef exports, even at higher prices that we’re facing, both on the domestic market, and the export market.”
Year-to-date beef exports are up three percent from last year, at just over one million metric tons, and the value of all that meat is a record $5.87 billion.
Much of that meat is headed to Japan, where October imports of U.S. beef were up 25 percent in volume and 54 percent in value. October export volume and value were also notably higher in the South Korea, Hong Kong, and Caribbean markets.
Schulz says one reason beef exports are so strong may be that foreign importers are hedging against the possibility that high beef prices will climb even higher.
“On the export [side], we’re looking at pretty inelastic demand,” he explains. “So what that means really, in the short term, is that we don’t see that impact very large on the quantity consumed. And because, I think for the most part, that’s because they have a fixed amount that they’re importing into their country, so they really kind of hold those exports relatively stable. Also, if they’re anticipating higher prices, that means that I’m going to increase my exports, or imports, in this case, in the short term to really, kind of, mitigate some of those higher prices that I would be paying for volumes later on.”
Despite beef exports remaining higher year-over-year, the volume of muscle cut exports was two percent lower in October. Exports of variety meats, a category that includes organs, feet and tails, increased 14 percent in volume to offset the decline on muscle cuts.
U.S. Meat Export Federation President and CEO Philip Seng identifies lower slaughter numbers as hindering the supply of muscle cuts, and suggests a stronger dollar may be discouraging imports of available U-S muscle cuts.
To hear more about the strength of U.S. beef exports, click the audio player above this story.