WASHINGTON – For 2011, US beef cattle imports are predicted to have totaled 2.075 million head, according to the Jan 19 Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook from the US Department of Agriculture’s Economic Research Service. Although this number is 9 percent below a year earlier, it is still indicative of strong import levels in the face of tightened North American cattle inventory levels.

Once again the seasonal fall peak in US cattle imports from Mexico was pronounced as imports surged in November to more than 189 thousand head. AMS weekly reports indicated that through December total 2011 cattle imports from Mexico to be 15 percent above year-earlier levels. Drought extending from Southern Plains down to Northern Mexico, in addition to strong feeder cattle prices, drove the increased imports from Mexico last year.

US imported feeder cattle prices (Las Cruces 500-600 lbs.) beginning in July averaged $34.77 per hundredweight higher than equivalent Mexico City wholesale grass-fed steer prices. Through December, weekly cattle imports from Canada were 19 percent below a year ago, according to AMS reports. Steer and heifer imports for immediate slaughter averaged 51 percent higher year-over-year on a weekly basis. However, this was not enough to offset lower total Canadian imports stemming from lower imports of Canadian feeder cattle and cows for slaughter.

Since June, marketings of Canadian cattle have been above year-earlier levels and placements have been such that marketing numbers and the supply of cattle available for export as steers and heifers for slaughter should remain relatively high into the first half of this year.

Canadian slaughter cow and feeder cattle imports, however, should continue to remain tight as herd rebuilding efforts are underway in Canada. In 2012, total cattle imports will be lower, estimated to total 2.025 million head. Less imports are expected from Canada and Mexico.