USDA reported March beef and veal imports at 325.1 million pounds, up 71 million pounds relative to the previous month (February 2015) and 33.3 percent larger than the previous year. Imports from Australia, New Zealand, Mexico, and Canada remain robust. Australia continues to be plagued by severe drought conditions that have led to ongoing liquidation through the first quarter of 2015. The relative strength of the U.S. dollar, in conjunction with strong demand for processing-grade beef, has helped boost total beef imports this year. First-quarter beef imports totaled 876 million pounds, up 47 percent above first-quarter 2014. USDA has raised total beef imports from 2.910 billion pounds to 3.116 billion pounds for Calendar Year 2015.
Exports, on the other hand, continue to languish as high domestic beef prices and the strength of the dollar remain problematic for U.S. beef exports. March exports were reported at 185.3 million pounds, moderately higher (+7.3 million pounds) than the previous month but 7 percent smaller than March 2014. While the stronger dollar and high beef prices continue to negatively impact beef exports to Mexico and Hong Kong, March beef shipments to Japan (+9 percent) and Canada (+12 percent) showed signs of moderate improvement relative to last year. In the aggregate, USDA is forecasting 2015 exports to reach 2.461 billion pounds, down 4 percent from 2014.
Live cattle imports were reported a little over 234 thousand head in March, about steady with the previous year but 20 percent higher than in February. Live imports from Canada were reported over 112,000 head, while shipments from Mexico surpassed 120,000 head. Noticeable declines in slaughter cattle and cow imports continue to impact overall live imports, but firm feeder cattle demand outweighed those declines in March. Live imports are off to a slow start. However, demand for live imports is expected to strengthen throughout the remainder of the calendar year as domestic cattle prices are expected to remain high, with cattle inventories constrained and cattlemen holding back heifers to rebuild the domestic cow herd.