The U.S. Meat Export Federation Board of Directors Meeting kicked off in San Antonio, Texas, Wednesday afternoon with CattleFax CEO Randy Blach as the keynote speaker.
Blach provided attendees with an informative and enlightening look at the current state of global protein demand, production and trade. He opened with a favorable update on spring planting progress.
"The past few years we've put more corn into production and gotten through a tough drought situation, and we're now producing record-large corn crops," he said. "And this spring, 85% of the corn crop is in the ground. We're off to a great start, headed for a big corn crop. And on the soybean side we have a similar situation, with huge growth in our soybean output.
Blach explained that one of the most effective ways of restoring healthier margins to the U.S. farming sector is to expand international sales of high-quality protein, essentially exporting more corn and soybeans in a value-added form.
But he emphasized that the global marketplace for red meat is fiercely competitive, so it is important to reduce trade barriers that limit market access for U.S. suppliers and increase their costs.
"That's why the discussion we are having here today is so critical," he said. "We have to improve our level of access to international markets for U.S. beef and pork, and it needs to be a high priority."
Blach also noted that herd expansion has finally gained traction among U.S. cattle producers.
"Heifers are going back into the cow herd," he explained, "The herd is growing at a rapid pace – and it needed to. If we didn't respond as an industry to this economic signal to grow the nation's cow herd, beef would have moved from the center of the plate to the edge of the plate."
Blach also cautioned beef and pork producers about the potential impact of avian influenza, which has caused the U.S. poultry industry to lose access to some international markets.
He noted that the number of birds lost to the disease will not come close to offsetting the upward trend in poultry production, meaning that there will likely be surplus of poultry confined to the domestic market over the next several months.