March exports of U.S. beef were down in volume from a year ago but edged slightly higher in value, according to statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF).

March beef export volume of 83,612 metric tons (mt) was down 7% from a year ago, but export value ($440.7 million) was slightly higher. Beef exports finished the first quarter 4% lower in volume (256,587 mt) but 5% ahead of last year's record pace in value ($1.3 billion).

"We are definitely facing a challenging environment in several of our leading markets," said USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. "Some of these trends are anticipated, such as the lower demand for exports where domestic production is up and inventories are plentiful. But the trade impasse with Russia is very frustrating because we have lost access to a market where demand for our product is extremely strong."

March beef exports equated to 9% of U.S. muscle cut production, and 12% when adding variety meat – ratios consistent with a year ago. Export value equated to $222.20/head of fed slaughter, up from 9% in March 2012. First-quarter export value was $221, also an increase of 9%.

Beef exports to Japan received an excellent bounce from aggressive promotional campaigns designed to capitalize on the recently expanded market access. March volume (18,565 mt) was nearly 80% higher than a year ago, and value was up 62% to $114.2 million. This pushed first-quarter exports to Japan 30% higher in both volume (38,483 mt) and value ($252.1 million).

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