For only the second time ever, monthly red meat exports topped $1 billion in March.
According to the latest figures from the Meat Industry Association (MIA), total earnings for the month reached $1.04b, with China once again the major destination for our exports.
MIA's chief executive Sirma Karapeeva says 45 percent of red meat exports - worth $464 - went to China, with sheepmeat exports there hitting a record monthly volume of 36,434 tonnes.
"Global demand for quality red meat protein is continuing to remain strong, and we're certainly seeing that out of China," Karapeeva told Magic Talk's Rural Today on Wednesday.
"China is pretty much back to normal, with strong consumption and demand and of course that's great news for our sector."
Overall, exports to China were up 35 percent on the same time last year. Karapeeva said the strong demand from the country was driven by the ongoing impact of Asian Swine Fever on Chinese pig herds, which saw domestic pork supply fall by at least 20 million tonnes in 2020.
The last time red meat exports topped $1 billion was in March last year, at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Karapeeva said the latest figures appear to show COVID-related disruptions are starting to be resolved, though supply chain issues remain.
"With the roll out of vaccines in the United Kingdom, and the US and Europe we're hoping that more people will be able to go out and enjoy themselves, the food service business will reopen and that should hopefully continue to spur on that demand for our product."
Karapeeva said according to one industry report, global demand for quality protein is predicted to increase by 8 percent in the coming five years, giving the sector reason for optimism.
"The future looks quite good," she said.
"There will be increased demand in many markets and we've got some quality products with excellent attributes that we can supply those discerning consumers in those markets."
Supply chain issues remain an 'ongoing concern'
Despite the positive outlook, COVID-19 was set to have a lasting impact, particularly on global logistics, Karapeeva said.
"The supply chain issues really are an ongoing concern for the industry."
She said the feedback she had received from MIA members was "they're managing one way or another, but it's not a comfortable space."
"The supply chain issues are really a combination of big, global issues that are taking place right across the board, and then some more New Zealand-specific issues with congestion in certain ports."
With the peak season for many meat-related industries approaching, she said the sector couldn't afford to underestimate the effect of logistical and supply chain issues.
"If there is no opportunity to get containers, fill containers and send them off there will be some constraints and some pressure on the cold storage facilities in New Zealand."
She said MIA was currently working with its members and the Ministry for Primary Industries to "look at what alternative cold storage facilities can be dialled up as a back-up for extra inventory."