CME: Export Data Good for Beef; Not so Good for Pork

US - It appears that the voluntary reporting system for whole-sale pork prices will soon be gone, leaving only the data generated by the new mandatory system, write Steve Meyer and Len Steiner.
calendar icon 9 April 2013
clock icon 6 minute read

Industry sources say USDA’s Agricul- tural Marketing Service is moving to end the voluntary reporting system as of 3 May or even earlier if the volume and quality of data generated by the system declines. That is not necessarily a bad thing, just a fact of how these information system changes normally play out.

USDA had committed to running the voluntary system for as up to six months in an effort to generate overlapping data series to facilitate adjusting pricing formulas for items which are based on data generated by the old system. Everyone knew the new data would be different but no one knew exactly how or by how much it would differ. Most expected the average prices from the mandatory system to be lower than those from the voluntary system because formula pricing created a strong incentive to voluntarily report prices on only the highest-priced loads. Well, guess what? It didn’t work out that way. The price for most items in the mandatory-system driven reports are higher, creating an incentive on the part of sellers of both pork and hogs to move to the new system. And there is little doubt that data from the new system is far more robust since it covers everything that is traded. That is not nearly all of the pork cuts that are produced since many (bellies, hams, trimmings in particular) at the packer for further processing into cured and finished products that are not part of the price reporting system. All of the new data dating back to 7 January can be downloaded from AMS’s MPR Data Mart at Just look under “Hogs” and “Daily Pork”.

So, the best laid plans for a smooth and well-informed transition have not come to complete fruition. But a four month overlap is better than none. Buyers and sellers have been working out new ar- rangements since the new data began being published in January and will complete that task, either smoothly or in fits and starts, and commerce will continue. Change is often not a pretty process.

We have received a number of calls and e-mail regarding the “bird flu” situation in China and its implications for US livestock and poultry. We wish we had all of the answers but probably have little more than most readers and, we suppose, considerably less than some. Pork producers are particular sensitive to this situation given what happened to them in 2009 when H1N1 influenza was dubbed “swine flu” by the media even though it had little to do with pigs. What we have gathered, primarily from media reports, is this:

  • The flu strain is officially H7N9 and is of avian origin. There have been no reports of the virus being found in pigs.
  • All cases have been in China.
  • There has been no documented transmission of the virus from human to human at this point. One reports said that Chinese officials are monitoring over 600 people with whom the 23 infected people had come in contact.
  • The Chinese government has destroyed a number of birds — we’ve seen numbers as high as 20,000 — that the infected people had been in contact with. We have seen not mention of the birds’ being sick.
  • There has been no mention of pigs in any of the reports we have seen. We can’t say for sure but speculation about this influenza and pigs is likely coming from recollections of the 2009 H1N1 influenza situation and recent stories about thousands of dead pigs floating down a river in eastern China. We have heard nothing that connects the two incidents.
  • It appears that the Chinese government is being much more forth- coming about this situation than it has been in past disease out- breaks, most notably SARS. But that isn’t saying much given their past record of burying any news that might be embarrassing.

Product-weight export data for February were released by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service on Friday and the news was good for beef and, not surprisingly, not so good for pork. A few highlights are:

  • Total beef exports in February were 58,287 metric tonnes valued at $373 million. Those figures are 3 per cent lower and 5.5 per cent higher, respectively than one year ago and bring the year-to-date changes for quantity and value to +0.9 per cent and 9.3 per cent, respectively.
  • Canada was our largest beef market in February, taking nearly 14,000 MT valued at $96 million. Mexico was the second largest market in terms of volume, buying 11,515 MT. Japan was number two in value at $56.2 million. Note that large gap between the value of shipments to Canada and Japan.
  • Beef variety meat exports grew by 3.5 per cent in quantity and 2.2 per cent in value in February relative to one year ago. Variety meat exports lag 2012, year-to-date thru February by 8.4 per cent in quantity and 5.4 per cent in value. Egypt was our largest beef variety meat market in terms of both volume and value. Mexico was second on both measures.
  • Total pork exports in February were 132,897 MT valued at $404.2 million. Those figures are 12.6 per cent and 12.1 per cent lower than in February 2012. YTD exports are down 14 per cent in volume and 12 per cent in value.
  • Japan was still our largest pork export customer in terms of value ($144 million) and volume (32,519 MT) in February but those fig- ures were 13 per cent and 11 per cent, respectively, lower than one year ago. Mexico was our second largest market in terms of both value and volume while Canada was third.
  • The only markets among the top 10 to show year-on-year growth for pork exports in February were Canada (+2 per cent in value, +11 per cent in volume) and Phillipines at +55 per cent in value and +37 per cent in volume, albeit from a relatively small base.
  • Shipments to Russia in February were down by more than 50 per cent in both volume and value and YTD shipments there thru February are more than 30 per cent lower — even before their complete closure.
  • China/HK and Mexico remain BY FAR our largest pork variety meat markets, taking 85 per cent of the world total in both volume and value.
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