The past two years saw the second and third largest-ever numbers, 1.45 million and 1.42 million head, come north due to catastrophic drought in Mexico.
Conditions there have improved slightly in the past month and should they continue to improve, far more cattle will stay in Mexico, analysts say.
Moreover, Mexican producers sold many more spayed heifers to the U.S. than normal in 2012. They will now need to retain heifers to start rebuilding their herds.
Imports of Canadian feeder cattle were up 77 percent in 2012 compared with 2011. But the total was less than 135,000 head, only 9 percent of the Mexican total.
More feeder cattle are expected to stay in Canada this year so the number exported might drop below 100,000 head again. But the number imported from Mexico might decline by as much as 500,000 to 700,000 head, analysts say.
Imports of Mexican feeder cattle have fluctuated widely in the past 20 years, mainly due to drought and the strength or weakness of the peso.
A record 1.65 million head came north in 1995 after drought in northern Mexico and a weak peso. The total the next year slumped to 456,000 head but climbed back over 1 million head by 2000.
It has since remained above 1 million head, except in 2002 (816,000), 2008 (702,000) and 2009 (941,000). This year’s total might dip well below 1 million head again.
Analyst Jim Robb, Livestock Marketing Information Center, forecasts the decline at a minimum of 400,000 head but says it could be much larger. If near normal precipitation continues in North America, U.S. cattle imports will decline quickly, he says.
Canadian cattle imports in 2012 totaled 813,770 head, up 18.7 percent or 128,214 head on 2011’s total. Imports of feeder cattle increased by 58,819 head from 2011’s extremely low 76,021 head.
But an even bigger year-on-year increase came in cow imports. They totaled 202,764 head up 41.8 percent or 59,737 head from 2011. Even bull imports were up 10,112 head to 51,234 head.
Slaughter steer and heifer imports increased only 3029 head to 416,374 head. Imports of feeder and slaughter cattle are expected to be flat to lower this year.
Robb notes that since peaking in 2005, the Canadian beef cow herd has declined by 1.5 million head. But cow imports are expected to remain large.
All the year-on-year increase in U.S. cow slaughter the first half of the year will be because of an increase in Canadian dairy cow imports as Canadian milk producers continue to reduce their herds, 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.