U.S. beef export volumes posted 7-year highs in five of the first eight months of the year according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (MEF). The MEF also reported the value of beef exports in August topped the $1 billion mark for the first time ever. U.S. beef exports totaled just over 1.15 million metric tons through August of this year, up 21 percent compared to the similar period last year. Moreover, Derrell Peel, and Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist at Oklahoma State University, says that beef exports thus far this year are 9 percent greater than the same period in 2018, a record setting year for beef exports. The USDA Foreign Agricultural Service forecasts U.S. exports will top 1.5 million metric tons in 2021, a 16 percent increase over last year (Figure 1).
Figure 1. U.S. Beef Exports, 2018-2021
Japan and South Korea remain the top export markets for U.S. beef with shipments of 561 million pounds and 535 million pounds respectively. China is third-largest market taking 342 million pounds. This level of U.S. beef purchases is rare (pun intended) for China. Peel says China “is the most rapidly growing beef export market and could surpass both Japan and South Korea in not too many months. Beef exports to China/HK are up 163.4 percent year over year and have more than doubled, increasing by 114.1 percent since 2018 in the January – August period.” The surge in Chinese beef buying is related to several factors. The Phase I agreement between the U.S. and China, a multi-year drought in Australia limiting its production and exports, and a government-imposed ban on exports from Argentina have all contributed to China’s U.S. beef buying spree.
On the other side of the ledger, U.S. imports of beef totaled 2.2 billion pounds through August, down 6 percent compared to last year. Canada, 626 million pounds, and Mexico, 439 million pounds, are the top sources of beef shipped to the U.S. Through August, beef exports exceeded imports by 91 million pounds. Last year over the same period exports trailed imports by 455 million pounds. So, a surplus in beef trade for the U.S. may be in the offing this year. Nebraska generally leads the nation in beef exports.