The U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Strategic Planning Conference and Board of Directors Meeting got underway Nov. 10 in Carlsbad, Calif. USMEF Chair Pat Binger, who heads international sales for Cargill Protein North America, welcomed members from across the nation – including farmers, ranchers, processors, exporters and traders – to the organization’s first in-person meeting since 2019.
Binger previewed the conference agenda by noting that attendees will learn exciting details about booming demand for U.S. red meat in both established and emerging markets, but cautioned that the U.S. industry faces significant production and delivery hurdles.
“I see an agenda filled with excellent speakers and very timely topics – many of which are supply-side obstacles and challenges we would rather not be featuring, but that’s the world in which we live today,” Binger said. “Let us never lose sight of the fact that USMEF is first and foremost a demand-building organization. But with limited opportunities to meet in-person, it is important that we also share as much information and expertise as possible on our current transportation challenges, tight labor supplies and growing regulatory concerns.”
USMEF President and CEO Dan Halstrom expanded on these themes in his address to USMEF members, explaining that demand for U.S. red meat may be at the most robust level he has ever seen. He noted that U.S. beef exports to Japan, South Korea and China/Hong Kong are all on track to exceed $2 billion this year, and pork exports are up slightly in volume and significantly in value over last year’s record pace. Halstrom explained that total red meat export value will reach about $18 billion this year, including more than $2 billion in variety meat. This represents a rebound for variety meat exports, which took a step back in 2020 but have recovered this year due to strong demand in a wide range of markets.
Halstrom tempered his optimism, however, due to West Coast port congestion and other transportation obstacles, as well as a persistent labor shortage and heightening regulatory burdens. He noted that international customers, especially those in Asia who purchase chilled U.S. red meat, are increasingly concerned about timely delivery of these products. Halstrom noted that this situation threatens the U.S. industry’s longstanding reputation as a reliable supplier.
Mark Swanson, USMEF chair-elect and CEO of Colorado-based Birko Corporation, presented members with the new USMEF Strategic Plan that will help guide the federation’s activities and priorities over the next five years. Swanson complimented all the industry sector representatives who participated in the strategic planning process and asked members to carefully review the plan before considering it for final approval at the closing business session on Nov. 12.
Wednesday’s general session concluded with a keynote address from author and nationally syndicated columnist John Manzella, who called the COVID-19 pandemic a black swan event that changed the way American businesses view and evaluate risk. Manzella described how the pandemic, a growing trend toward protectionism and other challenges such as U.S.-China trade tensions have caused risk mitigation to play an increasingly important role in guiding the production and supply of U.S. products.
Manzella explained that diversification in sourcing, manufacturing and exporting is the way to mitigate risk. While he called on U.S. companies to implement new strategies for attracting and retaining workers, Manzella emphasized that automation is the most likely key to achieving sustained gains in productivity.
The conference continues Thursday with a panel discussion focused on ocean transportation obstacles for U.S. exporters, featuring Port of Long Beach executive Noel Hacegaba and longtime transportation journalist Bill Mongelluzzo of Journal of Commerce. A second panel will examine regulatory challenges for American and European agriculture, featuring Christine McCracken of RaboResearch and Rupert Claxton of global consulting firm Gira.
Activities will conclude on Friday with the election of USMEF officers and an update from USMEF Korea Director Jihae Yang. With USMEF marking the 30th anniversary of the establishment of its Seoul office, Yang will recap the rebuilding of consumer confidence in the safety of U.S. beef, benefits achieved in the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement and other factors that have helped make Korea a leading destination for U.S. red meat.