AgWatch


Talking Border Walls, Fences And Cattle

DR. ANDREW P. GRIFFITH

KNOXVILLE, TENN.
   Many have heard it said or said it themselves, “Good fences make good neighbors.” It would be easy to turn this column into a brief political platform relating to border walls, border fences, and general disgruntlement with the government, but that is not the purpose of this article.     Border walls and fences have our national government in an uproar and have many in the general public playing the blame game as to who is at fault. This seems rational since human nature tells a person to blame others for his or her problems, but Matthew 7:4-5 says, “How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Remember, “we the people” are who voted or failed to vote in the elections for those currently holding political office.
   All the talk of walls, fences, and trade issues may remind a person of the cattle business since beef cattle are generally contained by fences and trade is a factor that contributes to the value of animals being produced in the United States. Most trade discussions revolve around beef imports and exports, but sometimes it is beneficial to look at feeder cattle and live cattle trade between the United States, Mexico, and Canada.
   Cattle imports from Mexico to the United States are generally feeder cattle with no finished cattle moving out of Mexico. A better definition of the feeder cattle coming from Mexico is lightweight calves and many of these animals are maintained, grown, and finished in southern feeding country. In 2018, more than 1.255 million head of feeder cattle were imported from Mexico compared to nearly 1.166 million head in 2017 and 935,000 head in 2016. One has to go back to 2008 to find a year in which less than 900,000 head of feeder cattle were imported from Mexico. Putting this information in relative terms, these animals account for two to three weeks of steer and heifer slaughter each year.
   On the export side of cattle going to Mexico, most of the animals heading south are breeding stock with an occasional group of slaughter cattle heading south. In general, exports of breeding stock to Mexico ranges from 2,000 to 4,000 head per year, but these animals stay in the herd for several years. Breeding males and females being exported to Mexico may seem odd at first, but when it is related back to the feeder cattle being imported from Mexico then the picture becomes clearer. In many instances, Mexican cattle producers are purchasing United States genetics and then selling the calves back into the market in which they purchased the breeding stock. Thus, many of the feeder cattle being imported from Mexico have their roots in the United States.
   Cattle imports from Canada to the United States do not follow the same pattern as Mexico. In 2018, total beef cattle imported from Canada totaled a little over 630,000 head with slaughter animals making up nearly 68 percent of the total and feeder cattle making up nearly 31 percent of the total. Breeding stock accounted for the remaining percentage. Imports of cattle from Canada in 2018 were the smallest quantity in the last decade. This compares to 2017 when more than 645,000 head were imported from Canada and slaughter animals accounted for 80 percent of the total and feeder cattle accounted for 18 percent of the total. In order to provide perspective on how low cattle imports from Canada were in 2018, annual average cattle imports from 2008 to 2017 were over 957,000 head. Exports of cattle to Canada are negligible.
   United States cattle trade with Canada and Mexico does not have as large of an impact on the beef cattle market as beef trade. However, live animal trade with these countries is an important part of the industry. Imports tend to be seasonal in nature with peaks and troughs throughout the year and help fill natural production gaps in the domestic market. This trade can help southwestern cattle feeders fill pen space at certain times of the year with cattle that are accustomed to the environment, and it can help northern packers fill chain space at slack times. ∆
   DR. ANDREW P. GRIFFITH: Assistant Professor, Department of Agricultural and Resource Economics, University of Tennessee

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