WASHINGTON – As a relatively weak US dollar is supporting the beef-export market, the strength of the currencies of major US trading partners continues to put a damper on beef imports into the US, according to the Oct. 22 Livestock, Dairy, and Poultry Outlook from USDA’s Economic Research Service. In 2010, 2.48 billion lbs. of beef are forecast to be imported, about 6% less than 2009 levels. Import forecasts for the third and fourth quarters of this year are 645 million and 575 million lbs., respectively.

Australia’s herd rebuilding began late in 2009, limiting exportable beef supplies. But as 2010 has progressed and more Australian beef has become available for export, the strengthening Australian and New Zealand dollars, along with lackluster demand for beef domestically, have become the primary deterrents for US beef importers.

In October, the Australian dollar reached highs against the US dollar. Which has not been seen since July, 2008. US imports from Australia and New Zealand through August were 29% and 6% below year-earlier levels. Imports from Brazil during January to August 2010 were also less than half of those during the same period in 2009.

In late May, processed (prepared/preserved) beef shipments to the US were suspended, and no processing plants are currently eligible to export beef. In the third and fourth quarters of 2010, 4% and 5% year-over-year growth is forecast for US beef imports. However, this growth is more indicative of import levels already trending downward in 2009.

Some overall growth in US beef imports is expected in 2011, with total imports forecast at 2.54 billion lbs. Quarterly growth from 2010 levels is also expected next year as first-quarter beef imports should be nearly 7% higher year-over-year.

In the second quarter of 2011, beef imports should be fractionally below 2010 levels and only modest growth is expected in the second half of the year.