The impact of the 2012 drought – which continues into 2013 – can’t be minimized. An estimated 80% of U.S. agricultural land was affected, according to USDA reports. Corn production dipped nearly 13% below the 2011-12 crop year and was the smallest since 2003-04 with the lowest yields since 1995-96. Soybean production was down 2.5% with yields down 6%.

A shortage of livestock feed and the high cost of what was available contributed to herd culling and reduced product availability.

With that dismal scenario as a backdrop, the international markets carried their weight in 2012 in terms of returning value to the red meat production chain. With statistics in for the first 11 months of the year, pork exports continue to exceed 2011’s record highs for both volume and value. And although beef exports are down 11% in volume, the value of those products is at an all-time high.

A Closer Look: U.S. Beef Exports Dip Slightly

As we continue to explore new market niches and expand the spectrum of U.S. red meat products sold internationally, it’s gratifying to see the per-head export values for American beef and pork at record highs: $56.12/head for pork and $214.64 for beef.

So with 2012’s drought and sluggish global economic results as a backdrop, what is the outlook for 2013?

Entering into any new year, USMEF must evaluate not only market conditions in the U.S., but economic, industry and political factors in each of our major international markets. In subsequent installments, I will discuss some of the challenges and question marks that could affect 2013’s export outlook. With the information we have at hand, here is our current viewpoint:

2013 U.S. pork export forecast: With one month missing from last year’s totals, we project pork exports for 2012 to reach 2.27 million metric tons (mt), or 5 billion lbs.) valued at $6.35 billion – both new records. For 2013, we forecast volume and value of pork exports to increase 5%, reaching 2.39 million mt (5.27 billion lbs.) valued at $6.6 billion.

2013 U.S. beef export forecast: With November’s data in hand, USMEF projects beef exports for 2012 to reach 1.13 million mt (2.49 billion lbs.) valued at $5.5 billion, setting a new value record. For 2013, we forecast exports of 1.24 million mt (2.73 billion lbs.) valued at $6.2 billion – increases of more than 9% in volume and 13% in value over 2012 and setting new records for both.