May was an excellent month for Canadian agricultural exports.
COVID-19 hammered the economy in Canada and around the world, upending many supply chains and hurting much but also creating opportunities.
For example, Canadian exports of pork, beef and poultry reached a little more than $800 million, marking a one month record that was almost 19 percent more than May last year, according to Statistics Canada figures.
The virus closed or restricted operations of many meat plants across North America, creating temporary shortages. This drove the value of beef and pork sharply higher temporarily, and that in turn helped increase the value of Canada’s meat exports.
More than a quarter of the value of meat exported in May was fresh or chilled beef going to the United States.
The quantity of beef exported south was less than it was the same month last year, but the value of each kilogram of beef increased a lot, resulting in a huge dollar value, $226.1 million, for May.
That was 86 percent more than the monthly average of $121.7 million seen in the previous four months of the year.
Of the $800 million of meat that went to all destinations, about 58 percent was pork product and 38 percent was beef. A small amount of poultry and other meat made up the remainder.
Of the total pork and beef value, the United States took about half, China about 20 percent and Japan 19 percent.
As American livestock slaughter recovers from the COVID outbreaks and beef prices lose their premium, the value of U.S. imports of Canadian beef will likely return to normal levels.
As for pork, the export data showed increases in price and volume as China continues to buy much more Canadian meat than usual.
It is trying to fill in the hole created by the devastation of its hog herd caused by African swine fever.
The $163.6 million it bought in May, mostly pork, was a little less than the $181.8 million it took in April, but it was still a huge amount compared to previous years.
In the first five months of this year, China’s imports of Canadian pork and beef total $811.6 million, up 65 percent over the $491.1 million in the same period last year.
That business with China has set overall pork export value on course for a record year.
In the first five months of the year, pork exports to all destinations stand at 630,736 tonnes valued at $2.21 billion, up from the 548,841 tonnes valued at $1.77 billion moved last year. The tonnage is up 15 percent and the value is up 25 percent.
Beef exports to all destinations are not so strong, due largely to reduced tonnage shipped. In the five months 151,830 tonnes valued at $1.21 billion were shipped, down from 178,185 tonnes at $1.32 billion in the same period last year.
In all this talk of meat exports we can’t forget that the COVID-related disruptions to packing plants hammered prices lower for cattle and hogs.
Grain exports also boomed in May. Rail transportation capacity was freely available as the virus slashed activity in other sectors of the economy and weak oil prices halved the amount of crude moving by rail.
The total amount of crops exported in May according to the Canadian Grain Commission was 4.85 million tonnes, which from my research is a one month record, topping the 4.58 million tonnes moved in November 2016.
Wheat movement in May was 2.38 million tonnes, which must be a record or near record in modern times. The value was $793.4 million.
Back in the early 1990s, monthly wheat exports occasionally topped 2.5 million tonnes, but at that time canola and pulse exports were a small fraction of what they are today so the total movement of all crops was smaller than what is common now.
The huge wheat movement this May was helped a lot by big exports to Indonesia at 359,428 tonnes and China at 320,527.
Other major buyers each taking more than 100,000 tonnes were Colombia, Peru, the Philippines, Japan and Mexico.
Canola movement in May was respectable but not record setting at 949,961 tonnes valued at $492.8 million.
The big weekly crop export totals that added up to the record movement in May have fallen back in June to more normal levels.