Economic Tidbits

Cattle Moooooving Across Borders

U.S. imports of feeder cattle and cattle meant for slaughter rose to 1.98 million head in 2023, up 22 percent from 2022 according to the USDA Economic Research Service (Figure 1). The increase comes after two consecutive years of decreases. The most cattle imported since 2000 happened in 2002 when 2.5 million head were imported. The most recent high occurred in 2014 at 2.36 million head imported. U.S. cattle imports come exclusively from Mexico and Canada. Cattle imported from Mexico are feeder cattle heading mostly to stockers and eventually feedlots. Mexican imports last year equaled 1.25 million head, up 43 percent from 2022. Derrel Peel, livestock economist with Oklahoma State University, says this equated 3.7 percent of the U.S. calf crop. The increase came after a 23 percent decrease the year prior. Peel says such fluctuations in imports from Mexico are nothing new. According to Peel, the “flows of Mexican cattle into the U.S. vary from year to year because of numerous factors in both countries including relative cattle numbers and cattle prices; beef market conditions; drought; and currency exchange rates.” Cattle imported from Canada, mostly intended for slaughter, equaled 734,000 head last year, down 3 percent.

Market observers predicted greater imports last year due to the shrinking U.S. cattle numbers and rising cattle prices. And that turned out to be the case. Continued tight cattle supplies and strong demand this year have market followers thinking imports will rise again. The USDA forecasts cattle imports will be 2.05 million head this year. Thus far, the forecast has held. Through February, cattle imports totaled just over 335,000 head, up 11 percent from the same period last year. 

FIGURE 1. U.S. CATTLE IMPORTS, 2000-2023

Source: USDA Economic Research Service

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