U.S. beef and pork exports hit the highest monthly values ever recorded in March, giving renewed hope to the red meat industry that the pandemic slowdown is mostly behind it, according to a new analysis from the U.S. Meat Export Federation.

"It's very gratifying to see such an outstanding breakout month for U.S. beef and pork exports," said USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom. "Exports were off to a respectable start in 2021, considering the logistical and labor challenges the industry is facing and ongoing restrictions on the foodservice sector in many key markets. While these obstacles are not totally behind us, the March results show the situation is improving and the export totals better reflect the strong level of global demand for U.S. red meat."

The U.S. exported $801.9 million worth of beef in March. It was the first time that monthly exports topped $800 million and it was also a 14% increase from March of last year. As to volume, the U.S. shipped 124,808 metric tons in the month – “the second largest of the post-BSE era,” USMEF said in reference to a 2003 detection of Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy in the U.S.

China helped significantly in pushing up March trade; buyers there purchased $109.9 million worth of beef in the month.

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“U.S. beef accounted for 3.4% of China’s first-quarter imports, up from less than 1% at this time last year, and the U.S. is now the largest supplier of grain-fed beef to China,” said USMEF in the new report released Tuesday.

U.S. pork exports set new value and volume records for March. The U.S. exported 294,724 metric tons of pork, valued at $794.9 million.

China and Hong Kong together remained the largest foreign market for U.S. pork in the first quarter, but the biggest increase in business was with Philippine buyers.

“First quarter pork exports to the Philippines nearly tripled from a year ago to 25,377 (metric tons), up 190% year-over-year and 86% above the strong fourth-quarter pace,” according to USMEF. “Export value more than tripled in the first quarter to $62.4 million, up 201%.”

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