Growth In the Mexican Cattle and Beef Industry

A Mexican cattle broker looks at a group of spayed heifers before they cross the U.S.-Mexico border at Nogales, Sonora, Mexico. ( Wyatt Bechtel )

The Mexican cattle and beef industry has evolved rapidly in the past decade. Most notable is the expansion of beef exports from Mexico after 2009. Mexican beef exports ranked tenth in the world by 2015 although recent growth in Argentinian beef exports in 2018 may push Mexico slightly out of the top ten list of exporting countries. Growth in Mexican beef exports has been the result of expanded feedlot production, increased federally-inspected slaughter and, most importantly, adoption of boxed beef fabricating technology. Beef carcass weights in Mexico have increased steadily over the past decade.

The U.S. is the biggest market for Mexican beef exports, accounting for 89 percent of total exports in 2017. Mexico is attempting to develop a more diverse set of exports markets, partly the result of natural market growth and partly the result of uncertainty surrounding U.S. trade policy and NAFTA. Mexico is attempting to regain access to Russia and to expand beef exports to China as well as expanded exports to Muslim markets with Halal certification. Mexico was the third largest source of U.S. beef imports in 2017, accounting for 19.2 percent of imports behind Australia (23.2 percent) and Canada (24.7 percent) and just ahead of New Zealand (18.6 percent).

Mexico is a significant importer of beef as well and is projected to be the eleventh largest beef importing country in 2018, just behind Canada. Mexico is a major market for U.S. beef exports, representing 14.7 percent of total beef exports in 2017, behind Japan (28.9 percent) and South Korea (16.5 percent) and ahead of Canada (10.9 percent). Mexico, in recent years, much like the U.S. and Canada have for many years, has significant bilateral flows of beef exports and imports. These represent flows of different mixes of beef products all moving to higher values in various markets. This is markets doing what they do best with the result of maximizing the value of beef production in each market simultaneously.

Mexico has exported about 1.1 million head of feeder cattle annually to the U.S. for the past 30 years. In 2017, total U.S. imports of Mexican cattle were 1.2 million, close to the long term average but up 23.3 percent from 2016. Current USDA-FAS projections for 2018 include a slight increase in Mexican cattle exports but the preliminary weekly data through early March shows a 13 percent year over year decrease for the year to date. Mexican cattle exports are determined by overall cattle numbers in Mexico, U.S. and Mexican market conditions and drought conditions. Continued growth in beef production in Mexico may ultimately lead to fewer live cattle exports from the country.

I am writing this from Chihuahua, Mexico and have been traveling the past few days in parts of the northern region of the country. It is typically dry here this time of year but the drought monitor map shows that drought conditions currently seen in the southwest U.S. extend down western Mexico across the states of Sonora and Sinaloa as well as the western parts of Chihuahua and Durango. This includes areas of moderate to extreme drought that go beyond normal conditions of the dry season. Additional dryness is found in central Mexico. In Chihuahua, the rainy season runs from late June into October. Cattle producers typically have to manage through five months of rainy season and seven months of dry season each year.

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