Record-setting U.S. pork exports, matching the pace of 2011, and continuing impressive performance in 2012, couldn’t have come at a better time.

“International marketing efforts by the Pork Checkoff and the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) are helping producers get what they need from the international market at a critical time,” says Chris Novak, chief executive officer of the National Pork Board. “With the drought that producers faced in 2012, along with record-high feed prices, we’re seeing international markets respond to the value of U.S. pork.”

The most current data available through November of 2012 show that U.S. pork exports continued to top 2011 levels by 2% in volume, with a total of 4.577 billion pounds and 5%  in value, at a total of $5.8 billion.

Mexico remains the United States’ top pork volume destination, with totals through November up 15% in volume and 11% in value, pushing the 11-month total to 1.213 billion pounds valued at more than $1 billion.

“The export market is a bright star right now for U.S. pork,” says Channing Gooden, a pork producer from Elizabethtown, NC., who traveled to California recently with the Pork Leadership Institute (PLI) to learn more about pork export markets. “I’ve always respected the importance of trade, but seeing the mechanics of how it works is amazing.”

Exports Add Significant Value
Year-to-date, U.S. pork exports account for 27% of total production (including 23.5% for muscle cuts) and the per-head export value is $56.12, up 3% from last year.

“The export market is an important key to growing the pork industry in the United States,” says Nathan Horton, a Murphy-Brown feedmill team leader and PLI member from Milford, UT. “I’m impressed by the pork industry’s leadership in trade issues.”

The quality and leanness of U.S. pork keep international buyers coming back, Novak says. “Through the years, U.S. pork producers have done a good job through the Pork Quality Assurance Plus program to provide customers worldwide with safe, high-quality pork.”

Variety Meats Create Opportunities
These exports put more money in U.S. producers’ pockets, says Dermot Hayes, a professor of economics at Iowa State University. “Every $1 million increase in the value of U.S. pork exports adds 6 cents per hundredweight to live hog prices.”

The United States has many advantages compared to other countries, from efficient pork production systems to good disease management programs, he notes. As U.S. pork continues to gain access to new markets, some of the biggest opportunities may come from variety meats.

“Many Asian buyers would like it if pigs had six ears and eight feet,” says Hayes, who notes that variety meats factor prominently in many cuisines around the world, from soups to sausages. “While we currently render a lot of variety meats domestically at 12 to 15 cents per pound, we could add to the overall value of the carcass by growing our exports of variety meats.”