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Canadian beef exports at record pace, pork also strong

Exports in the beef industry are seeing a record year, say experts.
wp steak on grill
A chef prepares a rib eye steak on the grill at a restaurant in Mexico City. Canadian beef sales to Mexico increased 118 percent this year.
WESTERN PRODUCER — It is a tough year for Western Canada’s beef cattle producers, who saw pastures wither under intense summer heat and drought, which also caused feedgrain and forage prices to soar, making it difficult to maintain breeding herds.

But one part of the beef chain is having a record year — exports.

Pork exports are also strong and for once the story is not all about Chinese demand.

Data from Statistics Canada that goes to the end of September shows the value of beef and veal exports at $3.23 billion, which is almost equal to the $3.26 billion in revenue that came in all of 2020. With three months of exports still to be counted, it seems certain beef and veal exports will set a substantially larger new record high.

The revenue boost is attributed to increased tonnage sold and the rising price of the product.

Indeed, the price of meat, like many grocery items as well as other goods and energy, has sharply increased this year. 

This has prompted some analysts to speculate that higher living costs might cause consumers to reduce the expensive items in the grocery cart, such as meat.

However, so far consumers might complain but have not yet stopped buying. This also applies to overseas customers.

Comparing the nine months to September this year to the same period last year, the tonnage of Canadian beef exported is up 24.6 percent and the total value is up 37.8 percent.

As usual, the United States is by far the biggest customer, buying 73 percent of all exports by value in the nine months. Sales rose 32 percent .

Other countries taking more Canadian beef include Japan, where sales rose 41 percent, Mexico which increased 118 percent, and China, which increased 106 percent.

Another positive factor for beef this year is an improvement in the trade balance. 

While the value of exports in the nine months jumped to $3.23 billion, the imports were a modest $1.04 billion, meaning the net value of beef trade is at about $2.2 billion in Canada’s favour, which is much better than normal.

Strong beef exports will be particularly important to support cattle prices because slaughter and beef production is up over last year, when COVID-19 caused temporary packing plant closures.

To the end of October, fed and non-fed slaughter in Canada is up 10 percent over last year.

Now let’s turn to pork.

The export pace is strong, even as China reduces its buying.

To the end of September, Canada had exported $3.78 billion worth of pork, up slightly from the $3.76 billion exported at the same point last year.

China is trying to control its problem with African swine fever by a new wave of culling and so its domestic pork supply is up and its importing less than last year when a shortage caused it to import all the pork it could get its hands on.

Its imports of Canadian pork are down about half to 37,237 tonnes. By dollar value, the imports are down 45,5 percent to $691.64 million, dropping it to third place behind Japan.

Japan also bought a little less so far this year, down 12 percent to $950.2 million.

However, those declines were made up by increased movement to the United States, Mexico, the Philippines and South Korea.

Exports to the U.S. rose 33 percent to $1.22 billion up to the end of September.

Mexico bought $298 million, up a whopping 166 percent, and exports to the Philippines rose a staggering 280 percent to $257 million.

The Philippines suffered an outbreak of ASF that forced it to reduce its herd. Its government changed rules to allow more imports to control pork price inflation.

Last year Canadian pork exports in the final three months of the year were exceptional, pushing the full year total to a record $5.1 billion, Even if movement in the third quarter this year is more modest, the industry should still have the second largest export total ever.

The U.S. meat export sector is also having a great year.

In the first three quarters, total beef exports are up 36 percent by value to US$7.58 billion.

Shipments to Japan rose 17 percent to $1.72 billion.

Close behind is South Korea, taking $1.71 billion, up 30 percent.

China and Hong Kong together saw a big jump to $1.49 billion, up 146 percent.

On the pork side, China is also buying less American pork, but other buyers are making up the gap.

China and Hong Kong combined are still the top buyer, but their value fell 21 percent to $1.44 billion.

Number two buyer Japan increased its purchases by seven percent to $1.28 billion.

Neighbour Mexico’s buying jumped by 57 percent to $1.24 billion.