For U.S. beef and pork exports, June proved to be the best month of the year. Sales for both groups rose both in volume and value over 2012 levels, according to statistics released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

Pork exports in June increased 2.4% in volume to 169,098 metric tons, while edging a fraction higher in value to $469.7 million. Beef exports fared even better, rising 8% in volume to 101,720 metric tons and 21% in value to $562.3 million.

“There is no question that challenges persist, such as the continued closure of the Russian market, but we are seeing positive signs from key markets, including Japan and Mexico, that are vital trading partners for our industry,” says Philip Seng, USMEF president and CEO.

Another positive growth metric in June was the per-head export value recorded for both beef and pork. Beef export value was a record $260.21 per head of fed slaughter, a $56.31 increase over June of 2012. For pork, the per-head export value was $57.27 in June vs. $54.78 last year.

Pork exports to Mexico increased 20% in June, pushing the first-half total nearly even with last year’s record pace. Other top pork export growth markets in June (by volume) were Japan (+4%), China/Hong Kong (+15%), Central/South America (+54%; mainly to Colombia, Honduras and Chile), the ASEAN (+26%; mainly to the Philippines), Caribbean (+36%; mainly to the Dominican Republic) and Taiwan (+67%).

“The rebound in Mexico is particularly gratifying,” Seng says. “An abundance of domestic pork in Mexico affected demand in the first quarter and the Russian closure had a negative impact on the prices paid for hams and other cuts sold to processors in Mexico. But we are focusing on this market with a pork imaging campaign that is getting positive reviews from importers and consumers alike.”

Strong buying from Mexico likely helped propel heavy hams to over 90 cents per pound by early June, a 22% increase compared to last year’s prices. But access to Russia will become increasingly critical as the United States moves into seasonally larger pork production.

Pork exports for the first half of 2013 are down 7% in volume and value to 1.05 million metric tons valued at $2.94 billion. Total pork exports (muscle cuts plus variety meat) accounted for 28% of total U.S. pork production in June vs. 26% last year. For the year they equate to 26% of production vs. 28% in 2012.

June pork muscle cut exports accounted for 24% of production (up from 23% in June 2012). For the first half, exports accounted for 21.7% of muscle cut production, down from 24% last year.

Complete export results for U.S. beef and pork are available online.

Export statistics refer to both muscle cuts and variety meat unless otherwise noted. One metric ton (mt) = 2,204.622 pounds.