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Economist: beef imports up as domestic supplies decrease

Tighter beef supplies and strong demand have forced an uptick in beef imports.

University of Missouri’s Scott Brown says the US imported more than 350 million pounds of beef in February, nearly 24% above year-ago levels. “When you look at 2024 beef imports for the first 2 months, it’s 206 million pounds above a year ago,” he says.  “It’s one way to help offset a portion of what’s shorter beef production that will continue as we go through 2024.”

He tells Brownfield importing beef from trading partners isn’t always a popular move by some in the beef industry, but it can provide some benefits. “We are by and large bringing in lean beef from countries like Australia and New Zealand,” he says. “The nice thing about that lean beef coming in is that we can mix it with fat we might have left over here from fed cattle to create more value out of those trimmings than otherwise would be the case.”

Brown says more trade is better long-term for U.S. livestock industry. “We want to break down tariff barriers because we’ll win out of that strategy by being able to export more products,” he says. “This is about how do we play fairly as well.”

The volume of U.S. beef exports for February declined 1 percent from 2023 levels, but the export value rose 10 percent year-over-year.  February beef exports to the Caribbean were the largest on record and demand from Mexico and Central and South America also trended higher. 

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