DENVER — In October, U.S. beef exports hit their highest monthly volume for the entire year, according to the latest statistics released by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (U.S.M.E.F.).

Although still below year-ago levels, October’s beef exports reflect a 12% increase in volume and 5% in value over the prior month, and exceed the 2009 monthly average by 11% in volume and 7.5% in value. January-October exports of 743,085 metric tons (1.64 billion lbs.) valued at $2.56 billion still lag last year’s pace by 12% and 18%, respectively.

As the world’s largest beef exporter, Brazil has seen its exports slip more than the U.S. — 15% in volume. Argentina is the only major exporter to see significant growth this year thanks to its government’s relaxation of 2008 export restrictions and a sharp increase in cattle slaughter that led to dramatically lower prices.

"This has been a tough year globally for the beef industry due to the rough economic conditions," said Philip Seng, U.S.M.E.F. president and chief executive officer. "This year U.S.M.E.F. realigned its resources to put a lot of our emphasis on markets and niches within markets that showed potential for near-term growth, such as the convenience store niche in Japan, and that has helped limit the overall decline even though the strong U.S. dollar made our products relatively more expensive."

U.S.M.E.F. relays record U.S. beef exports to the Middle East represent one of the most positive drivers in October, totaling 10,608 metric tons (23.4 million lbs.) valued at $14.9 million. This region continues to show a growing appetite for U.S. beef muscle cuts as exports through the first 10 months of the year more than doubled in volume compared to 2008. Egypt, which has long been a stellar market for beef variety meat, has imported nearly 30 times its 2008 volume of U.S. beef muscle cuts.

Japan continues to outpace 2008 totals by a significant margin. October exports were up 24% in volume and 26% in value over October 2008. January-October exports to Japan totaled 78,823 metric tons (173.8 million lbs.), valued at $404.9 million — an increase of 22% in both volume and value.

U.S.M.E.F. has conducted extensive marketing efforts in South Korea in recent months at both retail and foodservice. Imports of U.S. beef reached their highest monthly volume since February — 5,695 metric tons (12.6 million lbs.) valued at $20.9 million. While down from October of last year, these results are more than double the September volume and are 90% above the September value.

In December, U.S.M.E.F. launched a major U.S. beef imaging campaign in Korea which seeks to further capitalize on growing consumer demand and a strengthening Korean currency.