U.S. farmers, poised to ship record beef cargoes for a second straight year, may get a further boost as Japan, once their biggest overseas customer, considers easing trade curbs imposed after an outbreak of BSE.

Sales to Japan may jump 43% to 202,100 metric tons (mt), the most since 2003, should the restrictions end in the second quarter, Global AgriTrends, a Denver-based research company, estimates. The government may raise the age limit on cattle slaughtered for beef to 30 months, from 20 months, about the middle of the year, according to Keiko Yamaguchi, executive director of consumer equity research at Nomura Securities Co. in Tokyo.

Increasing sales to Japan would help shore up farm income at a time when USDA is forecasting a drop in wheat, corn and soybean exports. Cattle futures rose to a record five times this month and traders anticipate higher prices through at least April 2013 after the herd shrank to the smallest since 1973 as of July 1, Chicago Mercantile Exchange data show. A drought in the southern U.S. last year and rising feed costs prompted ranchers to cull livestock.

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