Exports and the US Producer

This afternoon I had the opportunity to participate in a webinar sponsored by AgStar on the topic of world trade and the pork industry. The presenter was Brett Stuart from globalagritrends.com.


A couple of items in the presentation and resulting discussion caught my attention. First, Brett presented UN/FAO data that suggested that by the year 2030, total food production in the world will need to increase by 40% to keep up with population growth, with growth up by 70% by the year 2050. At the same time, total land use for agriculture is predicted to increase only 13% worldwide.


A second trend that Brett shared with the group is the 9% decline in US per capita meat (beef, pork and poultry) consumption in the past 3 years. Some of this is most likely due to the recession’s impact, but some is also due to the move by many younger Americans to a vegetarian or vegan lifestyle.


In 2009, between 20 and 25% of all of the pork produced in the US was exported. Because of the weak US dollar, and our very efficient production system, US pork is the low cost leader in pork exports (sort of like WalMart for grocery store sales).


My question this week is – if US per capita meat consumption continues to decline, what kind of ‘social license’ will producers need to be able to continue as a leading export country? If US consumers eat less meat, will those with social agendas (such as HSUS, Peta, etc.) put in place enough restrictions on our production abilities that we are no longer world leaders?


One only has to look back at England’s rapid decline to see how fast this can occur. In the 1970’s and early 80’s, England was the country the world went to when looking for new technology. Today, their industry is only 54% as large as it was 20 years ago. English produced pork in the meat case is more expensive than product from Denmark, Germany or other EU-27 sources. England went from the position of being a net exporter to becoming a major importer of pork in less than 20 years.

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