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Published October 14, 2010, 03:09 PM

North Dakota cattle take flight in Kazakhstan deal

Truck by truck, pen by pen, the Fargo Jet Center welcomed – and wrangled – its newest set of passengers onto a waiting jumbo jet Tuesday morning. Somebody call Samuel L. Jackson: We’ve got cows on a plane.

By: Marino Eccher,

Truck by truck, pen by pen, the Fargo Jet Center welcomed – and wrangled – its newest set of passengers onto a waiting jumbo jet Tuesday morning.

Somebody call Samuel L. Jackson: We’ve got cows on a plane.

The soon-to-be-airborne cattle were the first wave to be shipped in a major export deal between North Dakota’s Global Beef Consultants and the government of Kazakhstan.

The Bismarck-based company will supply thousands of cattle to the central Asian nation, which is looking to revitalize its agriculture after decades of decline in the post-Soviet era.

It’s the company’s first overseas operation – and the first time North Dakota cattle have made their way to Kazakhstan. The company will initially sell 2,040 cattle to Kazakhstan, shipped over the next few months. It hopes to sell more in the next few years.

In the scope of U.S. cattle exports, that’s a huge number: This sale alone would have made Kazakhstan the No. 4 importer of U.S. cattle in 2009, and represents more than 3 percent of last year’s total American cattle exports, according to data from the U.S. Commercial Service.

“We’re very excited about making this project happen,” said Bill Price, president of Global Beef Consultants. “It’s good for North Dakota. It’s good for everybody.”

The cattle will be part of a new $50 million feed yard and breeding initiative in Kazakhstan. Price declined to say how much the Global Beef sale was worth.

Kazakhstan, an oil-rich country, has seen its cattle herd dwindle from 35 million in 1991 to 2 million today. North Dakota officials have pushed hard to position the state as a trade partner as Kazakhstan works to rebuild. In 2006, Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple led a trade mission to Kazakhstan. A delegation that included the Kazakhstan agricultural minister visited the Big Iron Farm Show in West Fargo in September.

Global Beef first started working on a deal when Kazakh officials visited the state on a trade trip 18 months ago. Dean Gorder, executive director of the North Dakota Trade Office, praised the company for unwinding a litany of logistical, political and financial challenges to make the sale work.

“The complexity of the transaction is very significant,” he said.

The Trade Office keeps a full-time representative in Kazakhstan to foster connections between agriculture buyers there and sellers here. Because the two regions share similar weather and soil conditions, North Dakota officials tout livestock bred to thrive here as a natural fit in Kazakhstan.

Tuesday’s shipment included about 160 cattle. They’ll be accompanied onboard by a veterinarian and a pair of cowboys.

Shane Goettle, commissioner of the state Department of Commerce, said the herd may arrive jet-lagged after the 22-hour trip, but should adjust quickly in a familiar climate.

“When they step out, they might not know the difference,” he said. “Hopefully, they’re going to feel at home.”

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