DENVER — The US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) is holding a Strategic Planning Conference from Nov. 9-11 in Oklahoma City, Okla., to address the current opportunities and challenges for US red meat exports.

Although red meat exports are projected to reach a record value nearing $20 billion this year, the fragile global economy, lingering effects of the COIVD-19 pandemic and production difficulties from the drought continue to pose obstacles for the industry.

Keynote speaker Randy Blach, chief executive officer of CattleFax, noted that the drought has heightened production costs for cattle feeders.

“If you’re putting an animal in a feedyard anywhere in the Central Plains — let’s say Kansas or Oklahoma — your cost to put on a pound of gain is between $1.30 and $1.40,” Blach explained. “We have not seen that historically, not even back in 2008 when we had the ethanol mandate and for a period of time corn was at $8.00 per bushel. This is an interesting time, when the market needs more corn and where it’s needed most, the corn just isn’t there.”

Despite feed supply challenges and a strained economy, the US beef industry has performed strong, even reaching record high production in 2022.

“Whenever I ask an audience ‘who’s the biggest beef producer in the world?’ – everyone says Brazil because it has 300 million cattle,” Blach said. “But we’re producing more beef than Brazil with only one-third the number of cattle. Why? Because of our high-quality, grain-fed beef. The US has the best carbon footprint of anybody on the list of top beef producers, because of the way our production systems work and the amount of production that we get on a per-head basis.”

While beef production was at its highest in 2022, producers relied on 30 million fewer cattle than in the 1970s, Blach noted.

“That's what sustainability is — doing more with less, and doing it better with great animal husbandry,” he said.

USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom gave an update on year-to-date export results and his outlook for the coming months. Halstrom believes market diversification is key to achieving record beef exports this year. Pork exports are also regaining traction, he noted.

While China is a major importer for the United States with plans to purchase $4 billion in US beef and pork this year, Halstrom said the United States is not nearly as dependent on China as most other suppliers.

“Uruguay exports 58% of its beef production to China, New Zealand 44%, Brazil 18% and Australia 14%,” Halstrom said. “But even with our recent growth, just 3% of US beef production is exported to China.”

Export obstacles include trade barriers, global inflation, ongoing supply chain challenges and the strengthening US dollar. Halstrom said that US meat products were pushed 30% higher than a year ago due to devaluation of the Japanese yen.