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Exports Are In

Written by Natasha Wheeler

     After reading articles and listening to speakers from the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), 2015 hasn’t been the best year so far, but everyone remains optimistic about the international markets. We hope they are right.

    All red meat, including beef, pork and lamb, had a difficult first quarter in 2015, first because of the strike on the West Coast seaports, second, because of a strong dollar and third, because of strong competition from other countries. In reality, the challenges all hit at once.

When USMEF Chairman Leann Saunders spoke at the USMEF Board of Directors meeting in San Antonio earlier this year, she said, “The mood is very positive, despite all the challenges we have faced in the first few months of this year. USMEF members are definitely in this for the long haul and understand this is not a sprint but a marathon.” 

Greg Ahart, vice president of sales for Superior Farms and a member of the American Lamb Board, also spoke as a panel member at the meeting and noted that the lamb industry has recently stepped up its efforts to increase exports. The lamb industry also values the work performed by USMEF. Unlike U.S. beef and pork, the U.S. lamb industry isn’t focused on growing international markets.

Ahart said, “Right now, it’s all about simply getting access to markets. The cow that stole Christmas also stole Japan from the U.S. lamb industry. As beef was restored into Japan, lamb was not.” 

Another speaker, Cattlemen’s Beef Board CEO Polly Ruhland said the beef industry has been challenged by the decline in the cattle herd because the beef checkoff is assessed per head, not by pounds or value produced. This is really true as we have seen the beef checkoff funds here in Wyoming drop in the last year due to smaller numbers of cattle and fewer cattle sales.

Ruhland said, “At the same time the foreign marketing budget has increased, we realize in the beef industry that we have to operate in the global community to retain the sustainability, particularly the economic sustainability of U.S. beef producers. The global community is becoming even more important to beef as we move forward and as we rebuild herds. In the long term, we need to balance our portfolio internationally. We must have a good mix of emerging markets, mature markets and a product mix that allows us to be balanced.”

Jay Theiler, executive director of marketing for Agri Beef, a diversified beef and pork company, spoke on the Japanese markets, mentioning, “In the Japanese market, it is all about the story and where our beef comes from. We have to have a story behind our product, and we have to take that story to our customers. We are really focused on segmenting the market for different opportunities. We try to figure out how to be different and tell a story that sets us apart from our competition.” 

The Wyoming Beef Council has done a great job at this as they have told the story of numerous Wyoming ranchers. 

As ranchers in Wyoming, beef or sheep, we are but small cogs in a large wheel to get our products, a protein source, to customers, in Wyoming and around the world. We have to feed a growing population that now can afford beef and lamb and wants it.