WASHINGTON —While the spread of African Swine Fever (ASF) in Asia and plant-based protein “meat” alternatives in the United States may be garnering most of the headlines, US red meat and poultry supplies remain ample, if not record high, and US per capita red meat and poultry disappearance in 2019 is forecast at a 12-year high as pork exports soar.

It has been just over a year (August 2018) since the first reported outbreak of ASF in China. With attempts to control ASF but no indication of success in China, the deadly hog disease has since spread throughout Asia, including new outbreaks in the Philippines and South Korea reported in September. It is estimated by some that as much as half of China’s hog herd (the world’s largest at more than 700 million) has been lost or culled because of ASF, although official estimates from China are much lower (still dramatic in the 20 percent-to-30 percent range). The disease has slashed pork supplies in many countries, especially China, reduced feed demand (corn, soybean meal and other proteins such as dry whey and lactose) and global impact is beginning to emerge.

The US Dept. of Agriculture, in its September Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook, forecast 2019 US pork exports at 6,530 million lbs., up 11 percent from 2018, and 2020 exports at 7,065 million lbs., up another 8 percent. The increase was due to strong exports to Mexico and China. In July, Mexico, the top importer of US pork, took 150,753,000 lbs. of US pork, up 18 percent from July 2018 and equal to 28 percent of total US pork exports. Tariffs on pork exports to Mexico were lifted in May after being imposed in June 2018. Shipments to China/Hong Kong totaled 112,671,000 lbs. in July, up 380 percent from July 2018 and equal to 21 percent of the July total. China moved from the fifth largest importer of US pork in July 2018 to the second largest in 2019, displacing Japan. Total pork exports in July were up 27 percent from July 2018.

Strong US exports are needed as annual production continues to set record highs. The USDA forecast 2019 US pork production at 27,578 million lbs., up 4.8 percent from 2018, the fifth consecutive record high and surpassing beef production for the first time since 2015 and only the second time since 1952. Pork outturn was projected at 28,410 million lbs. in 2020, up another 3 percent.

US Pork smallest

Beef production was forecast at 26,953 million lbs. in 2019, up 0.3 percent from 2018 and second only to 27,091 million lbs. in 2002. Production in 2020 was projected at a record high 27,670 million lbs., up 2.7 percent from 2019.

Broiler production, meanwhile, which has set records every year since 2009, was forecast at 43,467 million lbs. in 2019, up 2percent from 2018, and at 44,000 million lbs. in 2020, up 1.2percent from this year.

The USDA forecast total 2019 US red meat (beef, pork, lamb, mutton) and poultry (chicken and turkey) per capita disappearance (retail basis, including exports, thus not the same as per capita consumption) at 221.4 lbs., up 0.9 percent from 2018 and the highest since 2007, and at 223.2 lbs. in 2020, up another 0.8 percent. Per capita beef disappearance was forecast at 57.2 lbs., flat with 2018. Other forecasts had pork at 51.8 lbs., up 1.8 percent, broilers at 93.9 lbs., up 1.6 percent, and turkey at 16 lbs., down 1.2 percent and the third consecutive year of slight decline.

With pork production increasing faster than beef or poultry, the boost in exports is coming at an opportune time for the industry. Even with the increase, US pork exports to China still accounted for only 9 percent of that country’s total pork imports, with 62 percent coming from the European Union, 15 percent from Canada and 10 percent from Brazil. The USDA noted in its Outlook that pork imports by China began to reflect losses to ASF in April, about eight months after the disease was first reported. August live hog prices in China, meanwhile, were up 62 percent from a year ago and were up 22 percent in August alone. The national price of pork jumped 20 percent in August and was up 53 percent from a year ago. As a result, exports of US pork to China may remain strong, at least until that country’s hog herd is replenished, which most in the industry expect will take several years.