U.S. beef imports continued to strengthen during May and were 20 percent higher for the month than a year earlier (see chart). Beef production is expected to decline 5 percent in 2014 due to lower cattle supplies, and lower cow slaughter, in particular, will increase demand for imported processing grade beef. Weekly federally inspected cow and bull slaughter through the end of June was about 13 percent lower than a year earlier. Imports during the first 5 months of the year were
8 percent higher overall, including strong shipments from Australia (+ 33 percent), Canada (+10 percent), and Nicaragua (+13 percent) Shipments from Australia have been especially robust as Australian beef production through May 2014 is 9 percent higher than a year earlier. Production has risen as prolonged drought and resulting poor pasture conditions continue to cause heavy herd liquidation. Imports have declined from Uruguay (-22 percent), Brazil (-21 percent), and New Zealand (-2 percent).
The forecast for U.S. imports in 2014 was raised to 2.521 billion pounds, a 12-percent increase from 2013 levels. While imports during the first quarter of 2014 were only 1 percent higher than the 2013 level, higher demand for processing beef is expected to increase imports 20 percent during the second quarter and 19 percent during the third quarter compared with last year. Imports should remain strong through 2015 as herd rebuilding will limit growth in U.S. beef production next year. The forecast for 2015 beef imports is 2.560 billion pounds, almost 2 percent higher than 2014.
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