The importance of beef trade to the cattle industry

What would happen if the U.S. beef exports and imports ceased?

Derrell Peel, Livestock marketing specialist

October 3, 2022

3 Min Read
federicofoto / ThinkStock

A recently released report estimated the impacts of ceasing both U.S. beef exports and imports. The report was authored by Glynn T. Tonsor, Kansas State University and Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University. The report was commissioned by the Kansas Beef Council, Oklahoma Beef Council and the Texas Beef Council.

Major conclusions of the report include:

  •     It is hard to over-state the complex and ever-growing role of beef exports and imports. Exports and imports are, to a large extent, conducted by different firms for different reasons precisely because they are mostly different sets of products.Beef exports and imports combine to provide opportunities to increase value to the U.S. industry by exporting products that have more value in foreign markets and importing products that can be sourced more economically in international markets.

  •    The mix of countries the U.S. exports beef to has developed resulting in a more diverse, less concentrated export portfolio.Conversely, sources of U.S. beef imports have comparatively fluctuated less over time.

  •     Implied trade prices clearly show the U.S. receives a higher $/lb. value for exports than it pays for imports reflecting core differences in product type and the role of each transaction in adding economic value. From 2016 through 2020, the U.S. experienced average annual unprepared beef exports of 2.05 billion pounds, export value of $6.4 billion, and implied export price of $3.13/lb. Conversely, 2016-2020 average annual unprepared beef imports were 2.30 billion pounds, import value was $5.8 billion, and implied import price was $2.52/lb. These statistics clearly indicate participation in the global market provides a net economic gain.

  •    Export volume as a percentage of domestic production has grown substantially in recent decades while imports as a share of domestic disappearance have varied much less.

  •    If both U.S. beef exports and imports declined by 10 percent, prices and quantities of feeder cattle and fed cattle would decline significantly.The cumulative, net present value of impacts over 10 years would be an economic loss of $12.9 billion to feeder cattle sellers and $6.8 billion to fed cattle sellers. Impacts would be distributed proportionately across states that produce feeder and fed cattle with the largest beef cow and feedlot states seeing the largest negative impacts of reduced beef trade.

  •     Extrapolating the considered 10% beef trade loss case to a more extreme, full 100 percent loss scenario would suggest catastrophic impact, broadly approximated at $129 billion for feeder cattle sellers and $68 billion for fed cattle sellers reflecting a much smaller overall industry. While the methods used here are not precise for such extreme situations, the take-home point holds: entirely ceasing U.S. beef export and import trade would be economically catastrophic.

As an over-arching summary, the report concludes that the economic importance of beef exports and imports is substantial and growing with time. In the absence of beef trade, the entire industry would shrink significantly. The report focuses on impacts of losing international beef trade on domestic feeder and fed cattle sellers and does not consider spillover impacts on other sectors such as allied industries including input suppliers (row crops, feed, materials, etc.), local labor markets, and agricultural lending. As such, this assessment likely understates the total impact involved with the possibility of losing U.S. international beef trade.The study focuses on beef trade enabling a deeper and achievable assessment, leaving trade of cattle, hides, and other aspects of the broader industry to other projects.

The importance of beef trade continues to grow as beef exports increased to a new record in 2021 and have increased even more thus far in 2022.  The full report and executive summary are available on the KSU Ag Manager website at:

Source: Oklahoma State University, who is solely responsible for the information provided and is wholly owned by the source. Informa Business Media and all its subsidiaries are not responsible for any of the content contained in this information asset. 

About the Author(s)

Derrell Peel

Livestock marketing specialist, Oklahoma State University

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