USDA’s monthly report of meat and poultry exports indicates that shipments for April were mixed across the three largest species with pork exports smaller, beef exports larger and chicken exports up very slightly for the month, according to Steve Meyer and Len Steiner of the Daily Livestock Report sponsored by the CME Group.

Some key items from Monday’s release include:

Pork exports dropped from 486.6 million pounds, carcass weight, in March to 450.6 million pounds in April. The April total, however, was 6.9% higher than one year ago, breaking a monthly trend toward smaller and smaller year-on-year changes. March pork exports were, in fact, 0.8% smaller than one year earlier. April pork production was 2.9% higher than one year earlier, so exports actually increased as a share of total production this year.

U.S. exporters shipped pork products worth $444.3 million in April. That figure is 1.8% higher than last year and brings the year-to-date total to $1.899 billion, 15.7% higher than in 2011. Variety meat exports, though down in volume by 13% through April, have increase sharply in value, gaining 26% so far in 2012.

Japan and Mexico remain the two largest customers for U.S. pork with China/Hong Kong remaining in third position. April exports to Japan were 6.2% smaller than one year ago, while shipments to Mexico and China/Hong Kong were up 32% and 124%, respectively.

Year-to-date U.S. pork exports remain well above (+13.5%) last year though that percentage is getting progressively smaller each month.

Whether U.S. pork exports can keep up with the 2011 pace as we get into the summer and fall months, which was driven last year by a surge in purchases by China/Hong Kong, will depend greatly, of course, on the level of exports to those countries for the remainder of 2012. But the past three months suggest some stability is being established at about 74 million pounds, carcass weight, per month. If that level of shipments persists for the remainder of 2012, total annual shipments to China/Hong Kong will end the year 11.6% larger than in 2011.

Or shipments to China/Hong Kong can drop to 62 million pounds, carcass weight, per month for the rest of 2012 and still match the 815.9 million pounds shipped to these markets last year. The flip side of these hopeful arguments is, of course, that product out-shipments from August through December will still be under either scenario much smaller than last year — at a time when U.S. pork production is expected to increase by 2.5 to 3.5%.

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