The U.S. Meat Export Federation's (USMEF) 35th Anniversary Strategic Planning Conference opened last week in Tucson, Ariz.
With organizational and industry representatives from around the world in attendance, the atmosphere was filled with optimism for international trade.
Leaders from USMEF discussed trade relationships and their economic benefits to the U.S. livestock industry during a conference call on Nov. 3.
"We've had a very successful year this year," said Keith Miller, the outgoing USMEF chairman. "Both beef and pork exports will likely set a new record."
With the hope of a strong fourth quarter, Miller predicted that exports of U.S. beef and pork should exceed $5 billion apiece for the first time. He bases that prediction on the fact that beef exports set a new monthly value record in July with $513 million. The industry then broke that record again in August with exports totaling $514.2 million.
All told, beef exports through August were more than 25 percent higher for the year in volume compared to 2010, totaling nearly 858,000 metric tons and nearly 40 percent higher in value at $3.58 billion.
In the pork sector, Miller explained that August pork exports were the highest for the year in volume and second highest in all-time value at $531 million. For the year thus far, pork exports are up 16 percent in volume to 1.44 million metric tons and up 23 percent in value at $3.82 billion.
Following the same trend, lamb exports have already set a new volume record-breaking 14,000 metric tons for the first time.
"The all-time record is just under $28 million and we are on pace to break that mark as well with exports through August totaling $21.2 million," Miller said. "We are also very proud of the fact that the exports are providing outstanding returns to the U.S. livestock producers."
Incoming USMEF Chair Danita Rodibaugh elaborated on the benefits of international trade to U.S. livestock producers. To determine that value, USMEF measures and monitors the value of the export market in terms of per head of slaughter.
"The export value per head of slaughter has reached remarkable heights in 2011," she said. "For beef, our export value for every steer and heifer slaughtered this year has been just over $200."
According to the group, the export value peaked in July at nearly $237 per head and remained strong through August at $214 per head. Similarly, pork export value for the year has been nearly $54 per head with a July peak of nearly $60 and strong results in August exceeding $56.
"Exports as a percentage of total production is also an important measurement for our industry," Rodibaugh said, adding that the ratio has been very strong throughout 2011 for both pork and beef. "On the pork side, we are exporting more than 27 percent of our total production compared to about 24 percent a year ago. This peaked in March at more than 29 percent of total production."
In the beef sector, USMEF is expecting the country to export 14 percent of its domestic beef product compared to 12 percent one year ago. The 2011 export peak for beef occurred in July when 15 percent of the total U.S. beef production was consumed outside of the U.S. borders.
As all livestock producers contribute to their species' checkoff programs, USMEF also examines the return of investment for the dollars that contribute to international marketing efforts. To determine that figure, USMEF commissioned a return on investment study conducted by Dr. Harry Kaiser, an economist at Cornell University, earlier this year.
"Basically what we found is very good news," Kaiser said. "The U.S. Meat Export Federation's beef and pork market development programs were found to have a positive and statistically significant impact on imports of U.S. red meat in all of the eight markets that were analyzed."
Kaiser's research estimates that over the past decade every industry dollar invested in international programs returned an average of $7.42 in net returns for the pork industry and $3.87 to the beef industry.
"We can double that when you factor in that USDA funding is matched by checkoff contributions," Rodibaugh added. "We commissioned the study to ensure that the checkoff funds that producers commit to international marketing is achieving the desired results. The results are favorable."
USMEF President and CEO Phillip Seng echoed his colleague's remarks calling the group's work pivotal "in the success of this international juggernaut that we have in the U.S. red meat industry."
"I'm proud to say that the U.S. pork industry again is the leading provider of pork to world and, this year, the U.S. beef industry should be the leading beef exporter of the world-exceeding Australia and Brazil," he said. "In both areas-the beef complex and the pork complex-it's unique that we'll have close to or over $5 billion in each area with totals over $10 billion in red meat exports."
He then credited the export market as a key reason for increased livestock prices received by producers today.
"The export market is really paying the dividends," he said. "The export market has been very helpful in driving the value that producers receive for their livestock. At this meeting we have much to celebrate in terms of 35 years of being very aggressive in the export market and also having the leading market sharers."
Export growth has also brought challenges to the marketing of American products. Seng indicated that USMEF is currently working with international partners to foster positive relationships in areas of: animal welfare, environment, ethics, food safety, production technology, private standards, sustainability and corporate-social responsibility.
"The nature of selling has changed from decade to decade; consumers today want to know where we are as far as these areas are concerned," he said. "All around the world, consumers want to know much, much more about how their food is produced."
USMEF is working to eliminate concerns and posted positive predictions for the final quarter of 2011 as well as increased exporting power in 2012. In the beef sector, the group forecasts that export volume will climb to 1.3 million metric tons, accounting for approximately $5.5 billion.
"We would look at this also as a percent of production that would be about 15 percent," Seng added. "The value per head would then go up to about $218 from the $200 that we have today."
In the pork industry, USMEF estimates that exports will grow to 2,115,000 metric tons which will boost the value of exports to $5.6 billion. The increase in trade will help the percent of pork production exported to climb to 28 percent, helping the value per head slaughtered to grow to $55 per head.
"When we take a look at the next year, we're very encouraged," Seng said.