The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has revised its forecast for US beef imports in 2024 to almost 1.9m tonnes.

This is 196,000 tonnes higher than it forecast in January this year and reflects the fact that US beef production has declined and is expected to be more than 200,000t below what it was in 2023.

At the start of this year, the US cattle herd had fallen to 87.2m head, the lowest since 1951, caused by widespread drought in several cattle producing regions over the past two years.

Tight cattle supply for factories has meant a sustained high farmgate beef price at the equivalent of around €6/kg since the middle of last year.

That has had a knock-on effect on processor margins, with all the major players reporting losses for 2023 on their US beef operation, following record profits the previous year.

Other markets

While US beef imports are forecast to increase significantly, it is a different picture for China, with the USDA forecasting that their beef imports for 2024 will be 127,000t lower than 2023.

If this forecast is what actually happens, it will be the first time since Chinese beef imports began increasing rapidly a decade ago, climbing from less than 100,000t in 2012 to a record 3.577m tonnes last year.

The USDA has also reduced the import forecast for Japan from 720,000t in its January forecast to 705,000t and South Korean imports have also been revised down to 585,000t compared with 610,000t forecast in January.

This is about to become a new market for Irish beef exports and while they will remain the fourth largest importer in the world, any decline in demand will make the market harder to break into for a new entrant.


The tightness in US cattle supplies is also reflected in the beef export forecasts. The USDA is forecasting that US beef exports will be 1.272m tonnes in 2024, which is over 100,000t lower than 2023 and 364,000t below the record total in 2022.

However, the US is the only major beef exporting country from which exports are expected to fall in 2024.

Brazil is forecast to export 2.930m tonnes of beef, up from 2.897m tonnes last year, while Australia is forecast to export 1.7m tonnes, up from 1.562m tonnes in 2023.

Argentina’s beef exports are forecast to be 920,000t this year, up from 882,000t last year, while New Zealand volumes are forecast to increase marginally by 4,000t to 690,000t.


With US beef imports forecast to increase to such an extent, Irish farmers might expect that we could recover some of our share in that market that has been lost over recent years.

However, this is unlikely, because any beef going from Ireland to the US in 2024 would carry a tariff of 25% of the product value because Brazil has already used up all the general tariff-free quota that is available for countries without a trade agreement with the US.

Also, with the forecast for the main Asian markets revised downwards since January, it makes it less likely that Irish exporters will make any significant impact in those markets.

This is made more difficult by the abundant supplies from both Australia and Brazil, where farmgate prices are currently €2/kg lower than in Ireland.

Note: all weights are carcase weight equivalent which includes bone fat and gristle which are typically removed in the deboning process before product is shipped.

Read more

Increase in output forecast from Brazil and Australia

US cow numbers hit five-year low

Brazil’s beef export price lowest in three years