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CME: US Cattle Imports Lower in Late 2015

07 January 2016

US - Historically, in a year, the US has often imported 1 million head of cattle from both Mexico and Canada.

Those numbers can vary significantly from year-to-year due to economic conditions (including price incentives caused by exchange rates) and feed/forage conditions (e.g. drought).

Trends in US imports can change as national herd sizes grow or contract. Feeder cattle (typically calves – steers and spayed heifers) headed to grasslands and/or feedlots are imported from Mexico through specialised facilities where their documents are closely scrutinised by USDA staff and each individual animal inspected by a USDA veterinarian.

The bulk of animals imported from Canada are three basic types: 1) feeder weight steers and heifers (calves and yearlings); 2) slaughter weight steers and heifers that are from Canadian feedlots and to be harvested in US packing plants; and 3) cull cows and bulls for slaughter in US.

Of course, any animals slaughtered in US plants are inspected under the jurisdiction of USDA employees.

Weekly cattle import data are compiled by USDA agencies; importantly, those are preliminary data and the final counts are collected and compiled as part of official trade numbers by the Department of Commerce.

Here we will use the weekly data because it is timely and provides useful breakouts of animal types.

About one week of data was not available (last week of the calendar year for Canada, and the full year of data were available for US feeder cattle imports from Mexico.

Imports from Mexico in 2015 were above 2014’s, driven by high US cattle prices and assisted by the dollar/peso exchange rate; the preliminary annual total, using weekly data, was 1.131 million head.

That was a year-over-year increase of about 78,000 head or 4.3 per cent. Total cattle imports from Canada in 2015 were about 803,000 head, a dramatic drop form a year earlier (down about 392,000 head or 33 per cent).

All categories of cattle imported from Canada were below 2014’s: feeder cattle fell by 34 per cent; slaughter steers by 45 per cent, and cull cows and bulls declined by 16 per cent.

At times in 2015, imports were bolstered by drought in western Canada. Over the last 12 weeks of reported data, cattle imports showed important trends.

First, cattle imports from Mexico have posted significant year-over-year declines. Compared to 2014, imports from Mexico during that 12-week period in late 2015 were down 21 per cent or nearly 78,000 head.

Second, during that 12 week period, imports in all categories from Canada remained below a year ago and the percentage declines were generally larger than earlier in the year (total animals from Canada down 55 per cent from 2014’s).

For the fourth quarter of 2015, year-over-year, feeder cattle imports were off 83 per cent, slaughter steers and heifers dropped 46 per cent, and cull cows and bulls declined 22 per cent.

When combined, total US cattle imports from Mexico and Canada declined in 2015 compared to 2014’s by nearly 350,000 head.

We think year-over-year US cattle import declines could persist into 2016. In recent years (through 2015) national cowherds were not growing in either Mexico or Canada. Lower cattle prices in the US also may deter flows.


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