Higher Cattle Imports Expected for 2017

The U.S. is on track to import more cattle from Mexico and Canada in 2017 than a year ago. Still, the imports are projected to be below 2015’s. The vast majority of cattle imported from Mexico are feeder animals, but from Canada, all types of cattle are purchased. The major categories are feeder cattle, slaughter steers and heifers, and slaughter cows. USDA’s Animal Health Inspection Service (APHIS) establishes requirements, reviews documentation, and inspects cattle prior to being allowed into the U.S. In this article, the preliminary weekly data on the animals imported will be used, as collected by APHIS and then compiled/published by USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service.

Some of the feeder cattle purchased from Mexico go directly into U.S. feedlots while others, especially the light-weight animals, are put on U.S. pasture to gain several hundred pounds before going into a U.S. feedlot. Year-to-date (through mid-November) Market News reported that about 185,000 more feeder animals had been imported than a year ago. That’s a 25% year-over-year increase. LMIC projects that for all of 2017 imports will be about 1.16 million head, the largest since 2012. The Mexican cowherd has been growing in recent years, and that has combined with relatively strong U.S. calf prices to pull animals north.

U.S. imports of Canadian cattle are on a downtrend. The Canadian cowherd has been stagnate the last two years and is dramatically smaller than it was 10-years ago (national beef cowherd down over 1.2 million head or 25% during the last decade). So far this year, total U.S. cattle imports from Canada were down about 120,000 head year-over-year (a decline of 17%). LMIC projects that for the full year imports will be just over 660,000 head. Compared to 2016 levels, imports of Canadian feeder cattle have been down 37%, slaughter steers and heifers up 5%, and cows and bulls dropped 26%.

Focusing on just feeder cattle imports, driven by more animals from Mexico, LMIC projects 2017’s imports from both Mexico and Canada to be higher year-over-year (up about 16%). If realized, the total will be about 1.3 million head. That’s equivalent to 3.6% of the 2017 U.S. born calf crop, as estimated by USDA-NASS in their mid-year count. That percentage is up some from 2016’s (3.2%). For many decades, a significant number of Mexican and Canadian origin animals were grown on U.S. forages and in U.S. feedlots, but the source of those animals has been shifting more toward Mexico.