The forecast for U.S. beef imports was raised to 2.848 billion pounds in 2014, according to the December USDA Livestock, Dairy and Poultry Outlook report.

Demand for imported processing beef has expanded in 2014 due to lower domestic supplies, the report says. Through October, imports rose by the great volume from Australia, Canada, Mexico and New Zealand, with nearly 70 percent of the increase coming from Australia (cattle slaughter was up 11 percent in Australia due to ongoing drought conditions). In Canada, which came in second behind Australia for import growth, a weaker dollar compared to the U.S. dollar and cheaper prices for Canadian beef have encouraged imports of Canadian Beef, according to USDA.

USDA is forecasting 2015 beef imports at 2.7 billion pounds.

On the export side of the equation, U.S. beef exports were up 1 percent through October compared to 2013 export figures. Exports were up to Hong Kong, Mexico and South Korea during October. Japan remains the largest market for U.S. beef, but shipments were down 1 percent through October, according to USDA.  

Total beef exports for 2014 are forecast at 2.599 billion pounds, marginally higher than 2013. In 2015, beef exports are forecast to fall to 2.525 billion pounds due to expected lower U.S. beef production and the strengthening U.S. dollar.

According to the U.S. Meat Export Federation, variety meat export was a driving factor in total beef exports in October. Muscle cut export volume was down 2 percent but increased 19 percent in value. Variety meat export was up 14 percent in volume and 39 percent in value, USMEF reports.

“Strong demand for variety meat is very positive news for the industry because these products contribute significantly to the profitability of U.S. producers and processors,” USMEF President and CEO Philip Seng said. “USMEF has also heightened the focus on alternative muscle cuts in many of our educational workshops and seminars. Familiarizing buyers with these economically priced cuts has been helpful in addressing price and exchange rate concerns.”