U.S. cattle imports equaled 1.8 million head in 2021, off 16 percent from 2020 according to the USDA Economic Research Service (Figure 1). Last year’s imports were the fewest since 2016, the second fewest since 2004, and breaks a streak of four consecutive years of growing cattle imports. Imports last year equaled 5.4 percent of the federally inspected cattle slaughter. The record high for imported cattle over the past 22 years occurred in 2002 with 2.5 million head. The most recent high occurred in 2014 at 2.36 million head imported.
Figure 1. U.S. Cattle Imports, 2000-2021
U.S. cattle imports come exclusively from Canada and Mexico (Figure 1). Nearly all cattle imported from Mexico are intended for feeding. Last year, cattle imports from Mexico equaled 1.13 million head, down roughly 313,000 head from 2020, or 22 percent. Most cattle imported from Canada are intended for slaughter and numbered 647,248 head last year, off 26,000. Market observers attribute last year’s decline in imports to the ebb and flow of cattle markets and trade and changes in the cattle sectors in each country.