“Meat industry sales people are more and more learning to put the right cut in the right market to maximize value. Hams, for instance, command more value in Mexico; loins, tenderloins, and bellies are big in Japan; variety meats are huge in China.

“In Japan for two years we’ve a pork promotion program in 45,000 convenience stores. Japan has over 300 different domestic pork brands, but with our promotion and marketing and customer assistance programs, U.S. pork has become a very popular item in these stores.” Beef tongues in Japan are $7 per pound FOB, compared to $1.50 here, $14 per head in value for tongue alone.

Beef sales to Japan were significantly hurt by the BSE (“mad cow disease”) scare in the U.S. in December 2003, which resulted in the Japanese government banning U.S. beef entirely until 2006.

Japan, which had been the largest buyer of U.S. beef —purchasing 900 million pounds in 2003 — imposed stringent requirements on American beef before resuming imports in 2006, but it still limited those purchases to beef from cattle under 20 months of age.

On Jan. 30, Japan announced that it was relaxing the import requirements and would allow meat from animals up to 30 months of age. The USDA said the move could result in hundreds of millions of dollars in additional beef exports to Japan.

“Japan was a $1.8 billion market pre-BSE,” Halstrom says. “Last year, we were just under $900 million for cattle 20 months and under. By now taking meat from cattle 30 months of age and under, we’ll go from only 20 percent of U.S. cattle qualifying to over 90 percent.

“This is a really big deal — something we’ve been waiting on for years. There is a huge potential for U.S. beef in Japan.”

The U.S. has “a very good trendline going for beef export sales” worldwide, Halstrom says. “In 2011, we had $5.4 billion in beef exports, and 2012 should be $5.6 billion to $5.7 billion, another record. Exports as a percent of production is well over 14 percent, back to the same levels we had pre-BSE.

“Pork has really taken off in Mexico, and Central and South America are exciting markets for both pork and beef.

Mexico was the quickest to come back post-BSE, with relatively minimal destruction of our market there.

Exports to Colombia have doubled in the last year, but Korea is still short of where we are pre-BSE.”

Other growth markets since 2003, he says, include Russia, “up very significantly,” and Singapore/Philippines, Taiwan, the European Union, and other areas, “all helping to expand and diversify our customer base.

“In Central America and South America we had almost no beef market five years ago; now, it’s near $125 million. We’re also seeing a lot of business going into countries that are big competitors globally.”

With world population now at 7 billion people, and estimated to be 9 billion by 2040-2050, with 96 percent of those outside the U.S., market opportunities abound, Halstrom says.

“We’re seeing huge growth rates in emerging markets. Whereas our U.S. growth rate is about 1.7 percent, some of these markets are 7 percent, 10 percent, even18 percent. A number of countries are declining in self-sufficiency for pork and beef, and we can help to fill that need. The U.S. is the lowest cost producer in the world because of our grain grain production.”

The U.S. meat industry needs to do an even better job of telling its story and promoting its products, Halstrom says. About half the funding for the U.S. Meat Export Federation is USDA-generated, he notes, and checkoff programs provide additional support.

“With these funds, we’re also able to get investments from customers in foreign countries, which really helps to increase our marketing leverage overseas.

“It’s crucial to our continued growth and success that USDA funding through the MAP/FMP programs be continued. With no new farm bill passed last year, these promotion and marketing funds are approved, but have not been authorized to be spent. Other commodities that get USDA promotion and marketing funding are in the same boat.

“Please stress to your legislators the importance of authorizing these programs so we can continue to support these vital programs for exporting the highest quality, safest meats in the world.”

A Cornell University study, Halstrom says, has shown $35 in returns from every $1 spent in these government supported programs. “Every $1 billion in ag exports supports 8,400 U.S. jobs,” he says.

Mississippi ag exports in 2009 totaled $1.3 billion, with beef and cattle among the top five sources of export income, he says, “and that number is quite a bit higher by now.”