Beef Export Volumes Lag 2011 Record Levels

U.S. beef exports set record highs in 2011 for both volume and value. The U.S. exported 2.8 billion pounds of beef in 2011, 21% more than in 2010 and almost 11% above the previous record set in 2003. The value of beef exports at $4.6 B was up $1.2 B (34%) compared to last year.

In the latest World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report released June 12, USDA predicted 2012 beef exports to decline about 6% in volume and imports to increase about 18.5%. Attempting to explain international trade is complicated because many factors affect trade flows of agricultural commodities, including beef. But to try to simplify beef trade a few important factors include general economic conditions, exchange rates, government policies, and changing beef production and price levels in the many beef importing and exporting countries.

The U.S. is a major participant in the world beef market because we are the largest beef producer, largest consumer, second largest importer behind Russia, and the third largest exporter behind Australia and Brazil.

Some reasons for USDA projecting more imports and less exports in 2012 are the strengthening value of the $U.S.; lower U.S. beef production, especially cow beef; higher U.S. beef prices; and increasing beef production and expected increases in exports from Australia.

The USDA Economic Research Service (ERS) released the latest beef trade data, which is through April, on June 11. Cumulative beef exports on a carcass weight basis through April were down about 10.5% from last year's record levels. However, due to higher beef prices the year to date value of exports was almost 5% higher than last year. The top four destinations for beef exports in 2011 were Canada, Mexico, Japan, and South Korea. Exports to all of those countries were down over last year. However, increases of 40% to Vietnam and 67% to Russia were recorded.

U.S. beef imports through April were 22% higher than last year. The top three sources of U.S. beef imports in 2011 were Canada, New Zealand, and Australia. Australia was the leading provider of beef to the U.S. until 2008 when it fell to 2nd place through 2010 and to 3rd place in 2011. A drought in Australia caused beef herd liquidation but rebuilding has now taken place. Imports from Australia were up 74% through April and Australia is poised to regain 2nd place and possibly 1st place status in 2012. Imports from Canada were up 9% with New Zealand up only 3%.

Even though more beef imports and less exports are predicted for 2012, that won't be enough to offset the expected 3.3% decline in beef production that the LMIC is predicting. The LMIC projects about a 2% decline in 2012 per capita beef consumption, which is one of the factors supporting current cattle prices. Fed cattle prices are 9% above last year at this time, with cow prices about 25% higher, and depending on the geographic region feeder cattle and calves are 20 to 35 percent higher.

**Source: Tim Petry, Livestock Economist, North Dakota State