Canadian Beef Imports Remain Historically Low

12/22/2012 7:00 AM

Annual U.S. imports of Canadian cattle over the past 20 years averaged 1.06 million head per year, says Jim Robb of the Livestock Marketing Information Center.

But the Canadian beef cow herd has been shrinking in recent years. Since peaking in 2005, its cow herd has declined by 1 million head or 27 percent, according to Statistics Canada.

As of July 1, the cow herd had stabilized, he says. Very modest herd growth is expected for the balance of 2012 and into 2013. Heifers held for beef cow replacement purposes were up 22,000 head or 3 percent compared with a year ago.

The impact of smaller Canadian calf crops became rather apparent in 2011 when U.S. imports of Canadian cattle dropped to the lowest level since BSE and posted a one-year decline of about 380,000 head. Imports will remain historically small in 2013, he says.

Imports of Mexican cattle in 2013 will decline quickly if near normal precipitation continues in Mexico, Robb says. Besides weather, factors that will influence imports include the strength of U.S. calf prices, the currency exchange rate and the strength of Mexican prices, which in part will be a function of Mexico’s economic growth rate.

In the U.S., the impacts of these changes will be most apparent on feeder cattle supplies available to Southern Plains feedlots and stocker operations, he says. Over the past 20 years, annual U.S. imports of Mexican cattle averaged 1.07 million head. In recent years, the lowest annual number was 703,000 head in 2008. The possibility of 2013 being near that number is very real, he says. His preliminary forecast would put 2013’s year-on-year decline at a minimum of 400,000 head.

Mexican imports last year totaled 1.43 million head, the largest since 1996 and about 200,000 head above 2010, Robb says.

The most severe drought in decades devastated Mexican pastures in 2011, just like on the Southern Plains, forcing producers to sell animals early and liquidate herds. Further, the drought was expansive, causing animals from further south than normal in Mexico to move north.

Even more Mexican feeder cattle have been imported this year than last due to continued severe drought in much of Mexico and high U.S. calf prices, he says. Year-to-date imports are up 5.4 percent at 1.35 million head from 2011 so full-year imports could be record large.

Any increase in cattle imports from Canada in 2013 will be overshadowed by declines in animals from Mexico. Overall, with near normal weather in 2013, total U.S. cattle imports should be the smallest since 2004, when Canadian animals were banned from the U.S. due to their BSE status, Robb says.

Pennsylvania Center for Beef Excellence Inc. with information from the CME Report, Cattle Buyers Weekly and other resources. For more information, call 717-705-1689.

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