Commentary: Weak dollar helping boost meat production

by Ron Sterk
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While much has been said about the negative impact of the weak dollar and its role in high crude oil and petroleum derived product prices, the positive side is that U.S. products have been relatively "cheap" in foreign markets, resulting in increased export demand for products such as meat and poultry.

Although still well below pre-bovine spongiform encephalopathy (B.S.E.) levels, the U.S. Department of Agriculture projects 2008 beef exports at 1,700 million lbs, a 19% increase from the previous year. Earlier-year comparisons are difficult since exports dipped to a low of 460 million lbs in 2004 after B.S.E. was found in U.S. cattle in late 2003. Exports in 2003 were more than 2,500 million lbs.

Gains in pork exports, which have been unencumbered by disease concerns, are expected to be even more dramatic. The U.S.D.A. projects 2008 pork exports at a record 4,556 million lbs, up a whopping 45% from 2007 and compared with increases of 5% last year and 12% in 2006. Interestingly, pork exports in 2003 were just over 1,700 million lbs, about equal to this year’s beef shipments.

Despite higher prices than a year ago for broiler meat, shipments in May were 636 million lbs, up 50% from May 2007. "Thus, the story continues in May to be increased volumes of broiler meat shipments, fueled by strong consumer demand and a weakened U.S. dollar," the U.S.D.A. said. For the year, the U.S.D.A. projects broiler shipments at 6,257 million lbs, up 8% from 2007.

While 2008 domestic per capita red meat consumption was expected to decline from 2007, red meat production is forecast to increase despite continued rising feed costs. Per capita beef consumption was projected at 63.6 lbs in 2008, down 2% from 65.2 lbs last year, with pork at 50.2 lbs, down 1% from 50.8 lbs. Annual beef production, however, was forecast at 26,566 million lbs, up 145 million lbs, or about 1%, and pork at 23,478 million lbs, up 1,535 million lbs, or 7%, from 2007.

Both domestic consumption and production of broilers in 2008 was forecast to increase from 2007.

While feed costs have been forecast to dampen meat and poultry production for several months, a weak U.S. dollar and strong exports actually have contributed to increased production from year-ago levels so far in 2008.

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