Exports will be of increasing importance to U.S. poultry and pork producers as American consumers continue to eat less meat, says John Anderson, deputy chief economist for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

“Right now, we’re looking basically at slow and steady growth in U.S. pork and poultry exports,” he said at the annual meeting of the Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation. “Beef exports are sliding, but I think that’s not so much a problem with our export market as it is a reflection of the lower production we’ve seen.

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“In our domestic market, total meat consumption will increase as the population grows, but it’s going to be tough to see growth in per capita meat consumption. Longer term, the U.S. meat industry will have to be very conscientious about cultivating export markets because U.S. consumers are eating less meat on a per capita basis.

“I think there are a lot of consumer preference and cultural issues behind that — people just don’t eat meat like they once did. We have a lot more diverse food culture, more ethnic foods that are less meat-intensive. Most of us grew up with a big piece of meat on our plate, and that’s just not the way the U.S. eats any more.”

The exact opposite is true in the rest of the world, however, Anderson says. “As incomes rise and lifestyles change, they’re becoming more interested in consuming more meat, so there’s a lot of growth potential in the rest of the world that we need to be in a position to capitalize on.

“I think our meat industries, in general, are doing a really good job of that. I think U.S. meat exports will continue to increase. Foreign consumers will continue to aggressively seek out U.S. beef, but we’re going to have less to sell because of the substantial break in production that’s likely in 2014 as we get expansion going again.”

In the pork sector, he says, “Value of cutouts is at a much higher level than a year ago, which is good. It had dropped pretty sharply recently, and hog prices were down quite a bit. We expect December to be sort of a down time in that market, but if we see it start to drop below year-ago levels, that’s really going to make it hard to see beef prices do a lot more than they’ve done already. We’re going to have to keep a close eye on these competing meats.”