FARGO, N.D. -- Crates with 160 live purebred Angus and Hereford cattle took off from North Dakota, the first in a total of $50 million deal with Kazakhstan over about 10 years, linking ranchers in the state to that government and its cattle industry.
The 747 jet, bound for Astana, Kazakhstan, took off at 12:21 p.m. Oct. 12 from the Fargo, N.D., airport.
Among the dozens of state officials and media at takeoff were Bill and Dan Price of Missouri River Feeders near Hensler, N.D. The brothers are key players in Global Beef Consultants, which is a partner in the deal with the government of Kazakhstan, and is supplying the cattle. The KazBeef Ltd. joint venture corporation is looking to establish two 2,500-head cow-calf operations and a 5,000-head feedlot near Akmola Oblast, Kazakhstan.
Mike Seifert, a Global Beef partner and chief financial officer, says the initial sale will be 2,040 cattle over several years.
Bill Price says the project is "way bigger than Global Beef; it's for the cow-calf producer, for economic development in our state to trucking and selling supplies to Kazakhstan."
He says the partnership will help re-establish a cattle industry in Kazakhstan and build North Dakota's industry. "I think we in this industry have to teach our children that it isn't about the coal industry all the time, and the energy sector; it's more about the livestock sector. We can help the livestock industry go forward."
The North Dakota Trade Office, quoting the Central Asia News Wire, says the project is the "most ambitious and largest scale upgrade of Kazakhstan's cattle herds in modern history." The office helped coordinate the deal, which has developed after North Dakota Lt. Gov. Jack Dalrymple led a trade delegation to the oil-rich former Soviet republic in 2006. The country has a similar climate to North Dakota, and similar oil resources.
Kazakhstan's cattle herd had numbered 35 million before the fall of the Soviet Union in 1991. Now it's down to 2 million, in part because of the falling consumer income, dropping beef consumption and "complications" in the "agricultural privatization process."
Among the onlookers at the plane loading was North Dakota Rep. Rick Berg, R-Fargo, who is his party's nominee for Congress.
Berg is involved in a "family cow-calf operation" near Hensler, N.D., and is one of 10 financial partners in Quality Dairy Growers. QDG initially was created to feed out dairy cattle, breeding them and selling them back to dairy operations "so they're ready for milking," and has been repurposed to pool qualifying beef stock, quarantine and vaccinate them. QDG sells them them to Global Beef in Mandan, N.D., which is responsible for shipping them to Kazakh-
Joe Skavdahl, a veterinarian from Harrison, Neb., who is signed up with it for a year, as well as Mike Slattery, whose mother and father are both veterinarians and run a family cattle ranch in Indianola, Neb., and will work with Ken Close, who is employed by Global Beef.
"We've got to find people to help us out, teach them and run the ranch over there," Slattery says. "Calve out 2,000 head of heifers."
Skavdahl took leave of a veterinary practice in Scottsbluff, Neb., to go with the project as a "unique opportunity to further my growth as a person and as a veterinarian," to have a country with a shortage of veterinary scientists.
"Instead of giving a country money and aid, we're allowing the country to learn and giving them an education," he says.
The two will live in an apartment in a nearby town, but an apartment-like structure is planned near the livestock facilities, he says. Skavdahl says he understands the project will span 15 years or more.
Kazakhstan Agriculture Minister Akylbek Kurishbayev visited the state in September, and then said his country was investing millions to improve its livestock technology.
Shane Goettle, North Dakota commerce commissioner, says the Kazakhstan deal is just "one example" of expanded beef opportunities coming to fruition in the state.
"We're continuing to meet beef demand in Korea and other parts of Southeast Asia. I think there'll be opportunities for additional processing in this region as a result of that and perhaps some identified shipments of beef."
He says FK Partners Inc. of South Korea is still working on details of a large beef kill in the state.
"I think what they'd have liked to have done is find a kill plant here, ready for them to take over, and that's not what's happened," Goettle says. "I'm very optimistic we'll be able to move that project forward."