While cattle producers are still reeling from multiple years of drought and resulting higher feed costs and a shortage of available forage, the industry postures for herd expansion and is experiencing modest gains in product demand, and the U.S. cattle industry looks to the future with a good measure of optimism.
Sparking that confidence early in the new year is a strong export value for U.S. beef that set a new record last year and the overwhelming producer support for the Beef Checkoff program.
For the latest on southwest agriculture, please check out Southwest Farm Press Daily and receive the latest news right to your inbox.
Export value for U.S. beef posted double-digit gains over the previous year’s totals, according to statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation, a contractor to the Beef Checkoff.
Beef export value was $7.13 billion – up16 percent (and nearly $1 billion) over the previous record, set in 2013. Export volume also increased 2 percent year-on-year to nearly 2.65 billion pounds, just short of the 2011 record.
Exports overcame significant challenges to reach these milestones, including market access restrictions in Russia and China, an appreciating U.S. dollar and, most recently, shipping difficulties related to a labor dispute in the West Coast ports.
For the month of December, beef export volume slipped 2 percent year-over-year to 221 million pounds, though value still increased 17 percent to $643.2 million.
“It was an outstanding year for red-meat exports, but headwinds continued to mount late in the year,” said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. “The West Coast port congestion is extremely troubling because the delays faced by exporters in December have become even more severe in 2015. If this dispute is not resolved soon, the meat industry will have to win back long-term customers who still want our product but have no choice but to seek alternative suppliers.”
The situation is especially critical because Asian markets take a large volume of chilled U.S. beef and pork, valued at more than $2 billion in 2014.
The strength in international demand was showcased in 2014 as customers paid record prices for U.S. beef, while still purchasing larger volumes. This is especially noteworthy because U.S. cattle prices were significantly higher than prices in Australia and all other major beef-exporting countries.
Exports continue to generate strong returns for producers as beef-export value per head of fed slaughter averaged a record $297.68 in 2014, up $52.72 from the previous year. For the month of December, export value reached $340.69 per head, up $61.53 from a year ago.
“These exceptional results illustrate the strength of the international markets,” Seng said. “In the past five years, per-head export value has more than doubled for beef producers.”
Beef exports in 2014 equaled 14 percent of total production (muscle cuts plus variety meat) and 11 percent of muscle cuts alone, up from 13 percent and 10 percent, respectively, a year ago.
Exceptional year for beef
U.S. beef performed exceptionally well in 2014 in key Asian markets, including:
- Exports to Japan increased 3 percent in volume to 531.6 million pounds and 14 percent in value to $1.58 billion. Value eclipsed the 2003 (pre-BSE) mark of $1.39 billion for the first time, though volume was still below the 2003 total.
- Hong Kong set new annual records as export volume increased 19 percent to 340.7 million pounds and value surged 40 percent to $1.15 billion.
- Exports to South Korea set a new annual value record of $847.4 million, up 39 percent from 2013, while volume increased 12 percent to 259.2 million pounds.
- Taiwan also set a new annual value record of $293.6 million – up 15 percent from 2013 – while volume increased 5 percent to 74.5 million pounds.
In Mexico, exports increased 12 percent in volume to 534.8 million pounds and 26 percent in value to $1.17 billion. As USMEF has previously noted, however, issues with the 2013 data suggest these year-over-year increases in exports to Mexico may be overstated.
Meanwhile, more good news is filtering down through the Beef Checkoff program.
A random survey conducted by the independent firm Aspen Media & Market Research in late December 2014 and early January 2015 found an overwhelming majority of beef and dairy producers continue to say the Beef Checkoff has value for them in many ways.
“The exciting thing to me is that support for the checkoff remains so strong. Over 80 percent of our producers say that the checkoff has helped to contribute to a positive trend in beef demand and 72 percent of them say the Beef Checkoff contributes to the profitability of their own operation," said USDA's Producer Communications Working Group (PCWG) Chair Jeanne Harland.
Harland says producer support is important to the industry and demonstrates the confidence of producers that the industry is headed in the right direction.
"About 76 percent of our producers say the checkoff would be there for them in the time of a crisis, and that same number says that the checkoff represents their best interests.
Beyond that, almost 70 percent of our producers believe the checkoff is well-managed,” she added.
For the very latest on U.S. beef exports, visit www.usmef.org.