Dan Halstrom has headed the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) as its president and chief executive officer for the past four years. While Halstrom has spent his entire life in the meat industry, it’s all been focused on international meat trade.

He has been on the staff of the USMEF for 12 years, and before that, he was a member of the Federation for 27 years, as an exporter/packer in international sales at Swift, now JBS. He became active in the Export Federation in the mid-1990s. In 2002, he joined the executive rotation, in 2007 he served as volunteer chairperson in the officer rotation, and he became head of global marketing.

USMEF is based in Denver, and Halstrom, 60, lives in Fort Collins, Colo., where he has raised a family. For Dan Halstrom, leading USMEF means constant travel around the world, looking for markets for US red meat.

MEAT+POULTRY: Have you always been involved in agriculture?

Dan Halstrom: Yes, I grew up on a family farm near Cherokee, Iowa, in the northwestern part of the state. On the farm, we had a grain operation and feedlots, with 2,500 head capacity.

Then I went to school at the University of Iowa, in Iowa City. I majored in finance, marketing and international business. In retrospect, it was perfect for what I’ve been involved in, to help US meat exporting. While going to school in Iowa, I began interviewing for international positions, did more interviews in Chicago, and finally interviewed for Swift Independent Corp., which operated large plants based where the animals are located: pork in the Midwest, beef and pork in Texas. I started with Swift in a trainee program in 1983-84 and the following year got involved in commercial sales on the international level.

M+P: What is USMEF’s mission?

Halstrom: For 46 years, USMEF has been collecting and analyzing market intelligence, implementing promotional programs, and collaborating with industry stakeholders and government agencies with one goal – to increase US red meat exports. We have 19 offices and regional representatives around the world, and we carry out market development activities in more than 95 countries – all based on our ability to export, beef, pork, and lamb from the United States. We work to bring buyers and sellers together using market and product research. And we provide the US government and industry with information to develop access to international markets for their meat.

M+P: Who belongs to USMEF?

Halstrom: Membership includes nine diverse meat industry sectors, including beef/veal, pork and lamb producers, oilseed producers, grain farmers, packers and processors, purveyors and traders, farm organizations, and supply and service companies. All have a vested interest in growing the export of US red meat. Our largest USMEF membership base is made up of traders and purveyors, who buy products from sources and sell them around the world.

M+P: What are USMEF’s priorities?

Halstrom: Here in the US, working with our pork, beef and lamb producers and processors. We help US meat exporters accomplish the goals they want to achieve in three ways: by using conversation, cooperation and collaboration. With our customers overseas, we are involved in activities at that end of the exporter-customer relationship. We build relationships, promote our products, and educate international customers. We tell the story of US meat to international customers.

M+P: How did USMEF get started?

Halstrom: USMEF began based on export prospects for US beef in Japan. The Federation was set up and became a Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) cooperator in 1976. USMEF opened its first international office in Japan in 1977. Tokyo grew and became the largest USMEF office and destination for American beef and pork. The strength of American meat export to Japan was strengthened at the beginning of 2020 with the ratification of the US-Japan Trade Agreement, returning US beef and pork to a level playing field in Japan. Our newest office is in Durban, South Africa – it’s a one-person office.

M+P: What are the major markets for US meat that USMEF works with?

Halstrom: The biggest are Japan, Korea, Hong Kong/China, Mexico and Taiwan. Other major markets are South Korea, Colombia, Philippines, and Indonesia, as well as Central America, South America, Europe, Africa, and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

M+P: Are emerging markets also important for American red meat?

Halstrom: Yes, they are critical. We work to balance achieving maximum returns in major markets while investing in the future, in emerging markets. We’re always on the lookout for new export opportunities around the world, through trade missions and other means.

M+P: What are the biggest challenges you’re dealing with?

Halstrom: Global demand for US red meat has never been stronger, but labor and transportation obstacles and high input costs across the supply chain make it increasingly difficult to satisfy this demand. USMEF appreciated the effort by lawmakers, maritime regulators, and other officials to address the persistent congestion at US ports, but this continues to be a costly and frustrating situation for US exporters and their international customers.

M+P: Is there a lot of competition in selling meat to other countries?

Halstrom: Oh, yes. We’re not the only country involved in exporting meat. In beef, major competitors are Australia, Brazil, and of course, Canada and Mexico. India exports a lot of water buffalo, which has its markets. You might not think of this, but buffalo goes into institutional settings – schools, nursing homes. In some cultures, that’s the only protein.

For pork, competitors include European Union (EU), Canada and Mexico. When we’re out there competing, we’re educating and promoting. We don’t want to be the lowest-price, and food safety is very important.

M+P: But because prices are going up in the US, why export meat if we could make it available to American consumers, possibly at a lower price?

Halstrom: That’s understandable. In beef, for example, there is a big demand here for cuts like ribeyes and tenderloins. The US exports a large amount of “round meat.” In beef and pork, a lot of variety meat is exported. Tongues, tripe, liver, hearts and other variety meats go to Japan and Mexico. There’s very little demand for those meats in the US.

M+P: What are USMEF’s priorities looking to the future?

Halstrom: As an organization and promoter of red meat exporting, we evolve as the markets for US red meat evolve. That means growing the export of red meat to regions that want more of it, where there is a desire and a need for more protein. That also means to regions that haven’t yet been tapped as much as they could be.

Evolving regions include Africa, where many trading companies are located. We’re also looking to expand further selling of US red meat in Southeast Asia, the Philippines, Central America. We may set up offices in or near those regions to assess market conditions, look at access issues, supply chain potential and consumer demand. Those are the major factors we look at in order to expand US red meat exports.

M+P: How would you summarize exports of US beef and pork last year?

Halstrom: US beef exports greatly exceeded previous volume and value records in 2021, surpassing $10 billion for the first time, according to year-end data released by USDA and compiled by the USMEF. Pork exports finished slightly below the record volume released in 2020, but set a new value record, topping $8 billon for the first time.

The beef export results are truly remarkable, especially considering the COVID-related obstacles in the global foodservice sector and all the supply-side and logistical challenges faced by the US industry. It really takes broad-based global demand to reach these impressive levels. So, this success story is not just about Korea, Japan and China – but also a strong performance in Taiwan, excellent growth in Central and South America and a rebound in Mexico and Southeast Asia.

Entering last year, we knew it would be a daunting task to match the record level of pork exports reached in 2020 because of the recovery in China’s swine herd and its rising domestic pork production. But the US is less dependent on China than other major pork exporters, and this is definitely reflected in the 2021 results. Even with shipments to China falling nearly 30%, total US exports posted a very strong performance thanks to outstanding growth in Latin America and other key markets.

M+P: Can you predict American pork and beef exports for this year?

Halstrom: Here are some early projections for 2022. USMEF projects US beef and beef variety meat export volume to be steady to slightly higher, estimated up about 1% to 1.455 million metric tons. Export value could increase more substantially, possibly topping $11.5 billion. We emphasize that shipping obstacles have slowed the pace of beef exports in early 2022 and US beef production is expected to trend lower in the second half of the year.

2022 pork and pork variety meat exports are estimated down as much as 4%, to about 2.8 million metric tons, with export value estimated at about $7.75 billion (also -4%). This is mainly due to smaller US production and relatively high US pork prices, which contrasts with the situations in Europe and China, where prices are depressed and demand is subdued. We project US exports to markets other than China will continue to grow, but constrained by tight supplies, labor availability and shipping obstacles. The export outlook could brighten if China’s buying rebounds in the second half of 2022.