NEW YORK — Demand for beef in China was a key factor during the first quarter of 2014 while tightening supplies will keep beef prices high, according to a new report from Rabobank’s Food & Agribusiness Research team.

“Prospects for the global beef industry remains positive in Q2, with further possible upside due to continuing pressured beef supply and scarce supply of competing proteins, which will continue to impact competitive positions,” said Albert Vernooij, an analyst with Rabobank. “Brazilian cattle prices and exports have surged to record levels, and Australian droughts have encouraged historically high slaughter levels to meet global demand.”

Rabobank said volatility is the biggest factor to impact the United States’ beef market. Tight supplies of pork due to the spread of Porcine Epidemic Diarrhea virus may strengthen demand for beef during the spring and summer grilling seasons.

 Slaughter levels of cattle are forecast to remain high in Australia, according to Rabobank. Strong international demand has supported record boxed beef exports in the first quarter. Additionally, a drier-than-normal period for Queensland and northern New South Wales has raised expectations of a continued high flow of cattle to markets.

 Rabobank said it expects strong domestic and export demand for beef from Brazil. Cattle prices are likely to remain firm during the second quarter and beyond even during periods of adequate supply as Brazil will host the World Cup, and presidential elections are upcoming. A continued depreciation of the U.S. dollar will also support prices.

Increased feed usage and higher cattle shipments to the United States mean Canada is depleting its available cattle supply with limited interest in herd expansion.

Farmers in China are unlikely to take advantage of government supported beef production expansion, Rabobank noted. This means ongoing shortages in China's domestic market will continue to support rising imports of frozen beef, with Australia remaining the biggest supplier. Australia accounted for 53% of total import volume in 2013.