December statistics released by USDA and compiled by the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), contractor to the Beef Checkoff Program, confirm that 2010 was the best year ever for U.S. beef export value. A final total of $4.08 billion breaks the pre-BSE high from 2003 of $3.86 billion by more than 5 percent and exceeds the 2009 total by nearly $1 billion. Total volume was 2.35 billion pounds, an increase of 19 percent over 2009.

What a difference a year makes - a $1 billion jump in beef export value

The global economic downturn of 2009 was particularly hard on beef exports - not only for the United States, but for all exporting countries. But despite an overall drop in global demand, U.S. beef maintained or increased its market share in most key markets and was well-positioned for a rebound in 2010.

"We knew the groundwork was in place for an excellent recovery in 2010," says USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng. "But even the most optimistic forecasts underestimated the degree to which our beef exports would bounce back. Increasing beef export value by almost one-third, and nearly $1 billion, is a critical achievement for the U.S. beef industry and a substantial boost for U.S. producers."

Export value equated to $153.09 per head of fed slaughter, which is up 22 percent from 2009 and is 12 percent higher than in 2003. Nearly 12 percent of total beef production was exported, compared to less than 10 percent in 2009.

Mexico was the only major destination for U.S. beef to show a decline in 2010, and even that market is showing substantial improvement. For the year, beef exports to Mexico were down 15 percent in volume (545.9 million pounds) and 10 percent in value ($819.1 million). For the third consecutive month, December exports to Mexico exceeded their 2009 value - jumping by more than 15 percent to $83.6 million.