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Beef Imports Lower in 2021

Derrell S. Peel, Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Marketing Specialist


Beef imports were up 1.5 percent year over year in April but are down 7.0 percent for the January to April period compared to last year.  Year to date beef imports are down 4.0 percent compared to the same period in 2019.  Table 1 shows a summary of beef imports in recent years and for the year to date in 2021.  U.S. beef imports are projected to decrease in 2021 by 10-13 percent year over year, which will put total beef imports below the 2015 – 2019 average.


In the 2015-2019 period, Australia was the largest source of beef imports, followed by Canada, with New Zealand at number three and Mexico ranked fifth.  Brazil, Nicaragua and Uruguay round out the top seven sources of beef imports.  From 2015-2019, the top seven countries accounted for 98.7 percent of beef imports with the top four accounting for 85.5 percent of total beef imports.  In 2020, beef imports spiked to the highest level since 2015 due the supply chain disruptions resulting from the pandemic.


Thus far in 2021, Canada has been the largest source of beef imports and is up 17.0 percent year over year.  Mexico is the number two source of beef imports for the year to date with imports down 6.0 percent compared to last year.  New Zealand is the third largest source of beef imports in 2021, down 9.9 percent year over year.  Australia is currently the fourth largest source of beef imports, down 48.1 percent from last year.  Australia is experiencing reduced production due to herd liquidation in previous years resulting from drought, wildfires and floods.  Australia is now attempting to rebuild herds, which further reduces beef production and exports in the short run.


Table 1.  U.S. Beef Imports, carcass weight.

Orgin 2015-2019 Avg. 2015-2019 Rank 2019 2020 2020 as % of 2019 2021 Jan-April 2021 YTD % of 2020
  1000 lbs.   1000 lbs. 1000 lbs.   1000 lbs.  
Australia 821,986 1 716,666 663,138 -7.5 116,443 -48.1
Brazil 148,819 5 163,153 221,427 +6.6 82,261 +110.8
Canada 745,501 2 847,839 825,389 -2.6 276,982 +17.0
Mexico 509,409 4 579,958 651,327 +12.3 197,096 -6.0
New Zealand 560,946 3 400,991 515,310 +28.5 173,236 -9.9
Nicaragua 137,585 6 182,727 189,504 +3.7 55,706 -21.7
Uruguay 122,303 7 118,796 147,224 +23.9 40,608 +9.8
Total 3,085,827   3,057,679 3,342,204 +9.3 970,912 -7.0


Argentina does not make the list of major sources of U.S. beef imports but the country has rebounded sharply in recent years as a beef exporting country.  U.S. imports of beef from Argentina in 2020 were the highest since 2007 but represented less than two percent of total U.S. beef imports.  Recently, the government of Argentina announced a 30 day ban on beef exports from the country, which has disrupted the rebuilding of beef exports from the country and is indicative of the challenges faced by the Argentinian beef industry in recent years


Global beef trade continues to grow.  Total beef imports by major world importers is expected to increase in 2021 along with increases in total beef exports by major world exporters.  U.S. beef exports and imports take place in the context of a much larger and growing global beef market.

Conditions are Ideal for Significant Fly Populations on Cattle

Justin Talley Ph.D. Oklahoma State University Extension Livestock Entomologist


For the past several years, fly populations on cattle have been significant beginning in late April then increasing to peak populations in August or September. This year is slightly different with the cool temperatures from April through May that slowed the fly populations down.  However, with the higher humidity and warmer temperatures setting in most of Oklahoma these conditions are prime for both horn fly and stable fly populations to explode over the next several weeks.


Horn flies are the most significant external parasites of cattle causing an estimated $1.8 billion impact on the cattle industry as a whole annually.  Although this fly is small and feeds from the back down the side and onto the belly of cattle it is the sheer numbers of these flies on a per animal basis that cause stress to cattle.  Over the past two weeks when observing cattle in pastures the average horn fly count per head was well over 400 flies per animal.  This is double the treatment threshold of 200 flies per animal. Considering the number of times an individual horn fly will feed on an animal throughout the day is 25 times per day then those numbers will certainly cause significant stress to cattle. In addition, the number of horn flies transferring from larger animals such as cows or bulls to calves is at a higher rate than in the previous months.  Calves are averaging around 150 horn flies per animal in the herds observed over the last two weeks. In a cow – calf system the horn flies on the cow or heifer impact weaning weights in calves due to the impact of that stress causes decreased milk production but when combined with direct fly numbers on the calf then the impact can be greater.


Stable flies are usually a problem in cattle from March through early May but with the cooler April and May temperatures then this fly is affecting cattle currently.  Although this fly usually decreases when temperatures increase from June through August it is the combination of a cooler spring with ideal humidity for this fly to be more prolific than in previous years.  The stable fly preferably feeds on the front legs of cattle and occasionally on the belly of animals.  Their bite is very painful to cattle causing significant behavioral reactions such as leg stomping, bunching and standing in water for long periods to avoid the bites.  One of the preferred breeding sites for stable flies are old hay feeding areas that never dry out or retain moisture for several months.  The significant winter temperatures caused cattle operators to feed more hay and these areas are supporting stable fly development.  In fact, a typical ring / round bale feeding area can provide sufficient habitat for approximately 60,000 stable flies per week. Treatment thresholds for stable flies are 10 flies per animal when observing just the front legs of animals.  Last week the average stable fly count per cow was 15 with calves having approximately eight stable flies per calf.  These numbers will cause significant stress to both the cow and calf but the stable fly populations will decrease if humidity levels begin to decline with consistent temperatures above 90°F. In a typical year, there are two distinct peaks of stable fly populations with one occurring in early April and another one occurring in late September.  The cooler spring temperatures has delayed the spring peak into June.


Regardless whether cattle are dealing with horn flies or stable flies these are on cattle herds across Oklahoma. This means cattle are not only dealing with one fly pest but also both fly pests and they both rely on blood meals as their main food resource. Cattle will need some relief from the biting activity from these fly pests now and the quickest method are insecticides applied directly to the animals.


For stable flies, it is best to find their breeding habitats (hay feeding areas) and clean them up or pull some type of implement through those areas so they can dry out.  Consider that a hay feeding area may not look conducive for fly development but if you walk on that area and there is moisture seen beneath your feet then it can support stable fly development.  For an insecticide application, the best method is to spray the legs, brisket and belly areas with a product that is labeled for on-animal use.  Since cattle will get their legs wet from laying in pastures or walking through water then applying the insecticide with a diesel oil as the carrier will persist a little longer than one applied with water.  Cattle producers will have to use a product that can be mixed with diesel and utilize a sprayer with pumps designed for diesel not water.


For horn flies, there are many different options to control this pest.  One of the most popular applications for horn fly control are pour-on products.  If using a pyrethroid pour-on be sure that it is synergized with piperonyl butoxide (PBO).  The synergist inhibits enzymes that insecticide resistant flies can develop to detoxify the insecticidal compound.  Insecticide impregnated ear tags are still a viable option for longer horn fly control but operators will need to rotate the type of product used every year to limit insecticide resistance. Rotating products is not based on trade names but by the chemical class the product belongs in.  For instance, a product can be in three broad chemical classes based on its mode of action (the manner in how it kills the fly based on target site) and products labeled for on-animal applications are either pyrethroids, organophosphates, or macrocylic lactones.  Veterinarians or country extension personnel can help identify which chemical class a product belongs to based on the active ingredient listed on the product label if assistance is needed to identify the chemical class.  Sprays are still a good option to provide some relief to cattle with heavy horn fly infestations and the spray should be applied as a course spray that is directed at the backs, sides and belly of the animal.  Insect growth regulators (IGR) that are feed through mineral are a very good option when combined with other control applications whether it be ear tags, pour-ons or sprays but producers will need to monitor consumption to be sure that the herd is averaging ~4 oz. / hd/ day to prevent flies from developing from the manure pats. Self-application devices such as oilers are a good option but you will have to either make it a force use system or put multiple oilers out to ensure the whole herd is treated properly.  A typical force use system is setting it up where cattle have to go under the oiler to get to water or a feed area. Regardless of the type of insecticide application chosen it important to get cattle treated to provide some relief from the biting flies so that cattle are not stressed especially when you add the additional heat stress that becomes a factor with high heat indices.

Feed Additives and Medicated Feeds

Bob LeValley, Oklahoma Beef Quality Assurance Coordinator


The term medicated feeds include feeds containing FDA approved medications intended to be included in animal diets.  This would include medications such as chlortetracycline (CTC) use in mineral supplements fed to control anaplasmosis, antibiotics used in concentrate feeds and premixes, completed feeds and others.    This might be a good time of year for cow/calf producers to review the basics of the VFD requirements.  The FDA requires a Veterinary Feed Directive (VFD) for all feed-use medically important antibiotics.  If a cattle producer needs to use one of these antibiotics, they must obtain a VFD from their veterinarian.  They must have an established veterinary-client-patient-relationship with the veterinarian in the state in which the cattle are located.  The only FDA approved medications are those used for treatment or control of specific diseases.  The longest duration any VFD can have is 180 days.  The VFD should specify an expiration date, which is the last day the feed can be used, not the date the drug becomes ineffective.  Extra-label use of FDA approved feed additives is strictly prohibited by law.


Good records are essential with VFD feeds as well as any medications to ensure proper withdrawal periods are observed.  All VFD feed records must be kept, and available for inspection for two years, by the issuing veterinarian, the cattle producer and the feed mill that distributed the feed. Record keeping, either computer based or by hand, can be a useful management tool.  Records can be used to evaluate treatment recommendations and help the veterinarian make adjustments based on documented results.


Note that there are several feed medications that do not require a VFD.  These would ionophores and parasite control medications.  Visit with your veterinarian for more detailed information on VFD requirements.

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