Mark Brunner got the chance last month to offer new friends in formerly hostile nations the opportunities to feed their people more effectively.
He also helped open export possibilities for the Angus and Simmental beef cattle he and his family raise on Cow Camp Ranch with facilities at Ramona and Lost Springs.
Brunner went on an October trade trip led by Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback and Secretary of Agriculture Dale Rodman that introduced ranchers from here and western states to opportunities in Russia and Kazakhstan, both formerly part of the Soviet Union but now independent republics.
He said he got the chance to do “big-ticket” tourist events such as attend entertainment, also attended by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and President Dmitry Medvedev.
But more importantly, Brunner said, he got the chance to see the people and understand their need for quality meat.
He said Kansans are well served by Brownback’s experiences, who as a congressman visited those countries, because he already has established relationships there.
Brunner said some of the better opportunities for his ranch are to sell embryos and seedstock, the genetics they need.
“There were even some discussions to bring veterinarians from there to learn to do the work,” he said.
Brunner said there was high demand for especially Hereford and Angus cattle, both originally British breeds, because the people there knew about them.
Producers there also had many Simmental cattle, but they tended to be the more yellow dairy-type Simmentals rather than the beef Simmentals that Americans have upgraded of a red color.
“The dairy-type cattle tend to put more mass into bone while the beef types put more into muscle,” Brunner said. “We need to get some of them here to see all the cattle that are available.”
In the markets visited, Brunner said, with most concentration in Kazakhstan, the meats available tended to be mostly pork, lamb, “with some horse,” ragged cuts of beef with almost no uniformity for standard cuts, and “a lot of chicken.”
Only the chicken was packaged and refrigerated, he said, which led to other meats with the possibility of deterioration in 80-degree temperatures.
Brunner said he hopes American producers can help educate beef producers in those countries that when it comes to importing live cows for breeding stock from the United States, they would be better off importing crossbreds.
He said the producers there were absorbed in the idea of importing purebred cows that might cost about $2,000 a head, plus another $2,000 for shipping.
They could be importing first calf cross-bred heifers instead, Brunner said, that would cost them $1,300 a head for top quality, for instance some Angus-Simmental crosses.
“They’d also like some of our Red Angus and other breeds.”
Brownback said his goal for the trip was to help producers like Brunner establish relationships that would lead to more agricultural trade with a focus on livestock genetics.
Brunner said there is no doubt that many people there now associate Kansas with high-quality cattle genetics.
Brownback said that since agricultural delegations began traveling on such trips to Russia in 2007, live animal exports to there have increased from $150,000 to $21 million for the first 10 months of 2011.
Neither of the countries visited is small by world standards.
Russia is ninth in the world in population with more than 140 million people, and it is first in area at 6,592,800 square miles.
Kazakhstan has 16 million people and is the ninth in land area at 1,053,000 square miles.
Brunner said his group saw many historic churches being rebuilt, especially in Russia.
Kazakhstan is split in religion at 47 percent Muslim, 44 percent Russian Orthodox, and 2 percent Protestant, he said.
Ethnically, Brunner said, the people of Kazakhstan seemed to be a blend of European and Asian stock.
“The government there still owns most of the land,” he said. “But the people have opportunities to lease it at about 50 cents an acre for 49-year leases.”
He said the people piece together deteriorated old farm machinery from the Soviet era, and have a big need for new machinery, another American export opportunity.
The countries do have wealth to pay with oil and natural gas exports to Europe and Asia.
Much native grassland “steppes” area was torn up under the Soviets for wheat planting, Brunner said, with big initial crops on the virgin ground.
“But now they need fertilizer bad,” he added, creating another opportunity for trade.
Much of the rest of the land was in white-barked “birch looking” forest, evidence of the colder climate situated further north than here.
There were also plantings of large horticultural crops such as cucumbers, tomatoes, potatoes, fruits and grapes, Brunner said.
He saw people marketing and raising fur-bearing animals, especially foxes, with many furs worn instead of the fiber and synthetic clothes people here wear.
Brunner said there is a big lack of infrastructure and cultural awareness of what is needed in agriculture there with no meat packing plants, and too few people trained to handle livestock.