Red Angus breeders find opportunity halfway around the world

Feb 7, 2014
by WLJ

In recent years, the Russian government has set an aggressive plan into action to restock their country with high quality dairy and beef cattle as they rebuild their economy. Support programs funded to the tune of hundreds of billions of Russian rubles (almost $10 billion in U.S. dollars) are intended to stimulate the development of the livestock sector over the next seven years—a sector that has been in decline since the break-up of the Soviet Union.

These programs have allocated monies for new construction and modernization of old livestock farms, as well as the purchase of domestic and imported high quality breeding dairy and beef cattle, semen and embryos.

In 2012, imports of live cattle to Russia rose by 50 percent in both volume and value as 137,000 head, worth nearly a half a billion U.S. dollars, arrived in the country. Fifty-four percent of those imports came from American soil, making Russia the largest world market for U.S. cattle exports in 2012.

Russian imports of live cattle slowed in 2013 but the former Soviet Union remains a strong growth market for bovine semen, embryos and knowledge. Sexed semen in particular is highly sought after as Russians strive to accelerate their herd development. The Ministry of Agriculture announced plans to allocate 3.5 billion rubles (approximately $110 million) for livestock breeding activities.

Learning more

The South Dakota Department of Agriculture (SDDA) partnered with the Montana and Kansas Departments of Agriculture to send a delegation to Moscow and Novosibirsk, Russia’s third-largest city located in the Siberian region, on a 10-day trade mission in late October, 2013.

Red Angus Association of America (RAAA) member Craig Bieber of Leola, SD, was among the delegation who participated in meetings with the U.S. Embassy and USDA Foreign Ag Service Professionals, as well as local government leaders, Russian cattle producers and potential buyers of U.S. beef genetics. The focus of the trade mission was to learn more about the Russian government’s plans to jump-start their beef industry and how the U.S. can be a partner in helping them reach their goals.

“The initiative Russia’s government has in place to rebuild their beef industry is an ambitious one,” said Bieber, “and the opportunity to tour farms and meet high-level government officials was extremely interesting. Our cattle industry has a huge opportunity to supply them with breeding females, semen and embryos through 2020 and beyond.”

Teaching more

While thousands of U.S. bred heifers have landed on Russian soil in the past few years, Russian nationals are unfamiliar with modern production practices to continue the expansion of agriculture in their country’s rebuilding efforts. One particular area of need lies in reproduction and artificial insemination.

RAAA member Craig Howard of Leola, SD, traveled to the Bryansk region located along the Ukraine border in August of 2013 as one of 14 AI technicians hired by a private Russian company to breed 33,000 heifers.

“It was a really neat opportunity and not a chance everyone would get,” said Howard.

“I saw how advanced we are compared to other places. The Russians will get there. They are buying the right cattle, asking the right people the right questions and they have some very good cattle.”

According to Howard, the Russian ranchers still have a ways to go to catch up to modern livestock practices. In the U.S., most producers grew up watching and learning from their fathers and grandfathers, but in Russia, workers have been removed from farms and ranches and don’t have the instinct or handeddown knowledge to know what to do.

Split into teams of six technicians, Howard said they didn’t waste any time tackling the task at hand. The Russians gave shots and brought the cattle to the chutes, while Howard and his crew inseminated the synchronized heifers with semen imported from the U.S.

Rebuilding the Russian cattle herd is important to the country—most of the beef herd was used as a food source during the difficult times, and now the Russian government wants to rebuild that sector of their economy. Their government wants producers to utilize a mixture of forest and open meadows for grazing, and cattle will be supplemented in the winter months with corn and millet silage.

In addition to bringing in cattle, genetics and technicians, Russia is also importing livestock-handling equipment. They offer subsidies for straight-bred cattle—about 5,500 rubles (or $175) per cow per year for animals in production.

Howard said the demand for expert help will continue to grow in the future beyond the work of technicians as Russian ranchers will need guidance and mentoring in management practices.

“The government is really working hard to build the beef industry,” Howard said. “They have interest-free loans for equipment and cows. With the emerging middle class, there is more demand for beef from the government. As their economy grows, there is still plenty of room for all of us; we’ll still be a quality meat supplier in the world.” — RAAA