DENVER — Exports of U.S. beef and pork muscle cuts performed well in March and ended the first quarter of 2010 with increasing momentum, according to the U.S. Meat Export Federation (U.S.M.E.F.). Although a sluggish global market for variety meat held down the overall totals, muscle-cut export value for both products are running ahead of their 2009 pace.

Beef muscle cuts increased 22% in volume to 156,947 metric tons (346 million lbs.) for the quarter. The increase in value was up 24% to $678 million. Combined beef/beef variety meat totals increased 11% in volume (225,122 metric tons or 496.3 million lbs.) and 14% in value ($788.5 million). Total beef exports accounted for 10.6% of overall production in March compared to 9.4% in March 2009. Export value per steer and heifer slaughtered equated to $127.40, compared to $110.67 last year.

Pork muscle-cut exports moved ahead of their 2009 pace by 1% in volume (356,297 metric tons or 785.5 million lbs.) and 2% in value ($941.9 million). Combined pork/pork variety meat totals are slightly behind last year in both volume (468,793 metric tons or 1 billion lbs.) and value ($1.11 billion).

For March, the value of total pork exports moved up 1% compared to March 2009, and it was 18% ahead of the value of pork exports in March 2008 — a record-setting year for U.S. pork exports. Pork exports accounted for 22.5% of total production compared to 25% in March 2009, but muscle-cut exports accounted for 19% of production, the same as one year earlier. Per-head pork export value equated to $39.80, which is down about $1 from March 2009.

Positive results for beef and pork exports were achieved despite significant declines in each of their leading value markets. Beef exports to Mexico continue to struggle due to weakness in Mexico’s economy. Though beef muscle-cut exports managed to pull within 7% in volume and 10% in value of their 2009 pace, variety meat exports to Mexico are still down dramatically.

With the exception of Mexico, U.S. beef exports are surging in nearly all key global markets, according to U.S.M.E.F data. Asian markets are performing well across the board, with excellent gains also posted in Canada, the Middle East, the Caribbean and Europe and tremendous growth achieved in Russia.

U.S. lamb exports increased by more than 60% in volume in the first quarter, but declined by 7% in value. Variety-meat exports struggled at a pace that was 30% below last year in terms of volume and 11% lower in value. Among the three primary destinations for U.S. lamb, exports to Mexico are increasing, but exports to the Caribbean and Canada are down sharply, according to U.S.M.E.F.