This is all part of efforts to make the central Asian country a beef exporting powerhouse, building from its current 5,000 tonnes (t) of annual beef and beef product exports. Of this, raw beef exports accounted for only 500t in 2013, said Yerubayev.
KazBeef wants to “build a vertically integrated food company – from a farming operation, to cows, calves, a feedlot, and meat processing, including distribution,” he said. Between 2010 and 2011, the company imported 4,000 head of Angus and Hereford cattle from North Dakota in the USA, he said. KazBeef started in 2010 as a partnership with North Dakota-based Global Beef Investors in the USA, drawing on its innovative technology and experience.
Global Beef Investors president Bill Price said KazBeef had a fully integrated approach, called from “the pasture to the plate”, with ranching, farming, and processing operations in place.
Kazakhstan is keen on Angus breed genetics: Global Beef Investors alone has “sent 8,000 to 10,000 pure-bred Angus and Hereford cattle to Kazakhstan”, with most of the cattle going to KazBeef, Price said. Stephen Handbury, the owner of Anvil Angus Australia said his company, too, has “sold over 250 breeding females to Kazakhstan, both as bred heifers and unjoined heifers”.
Meanwhile, Kazakhstan has capitalised on its imports: “In 2013 breeding livestock beef cattle productivity stood at 55,000 head,” said agriculture minister Asylzhan Mamytbekov in a note. Of this, he added, 34,000 head were bred locally.
In 2011 the Kazakhstan government launched a ‘Development of export potential of beef’ initiative to help the industry by setting up commercial farms, industrial feedlots and finally meat processing plants, most of which are not yet operating at full capacity, the minister’s note said. The ministry has also “increased subsidies” while cutting red tape in the agriculture sector, the note said. The government has also increased health controls to prevent the spread of potentially dangerous diseases. In the short term, Kazakhstan is targeting Russia and China for beef exports. If all goes well, the government hopes to increase beef exports to 180,000t by 2020.
“It is a very big order to fill,” said Price, but noted that it could be done with government support, the country’s extensive pasture on the steppe, and Kazakhstan’s strong work ethic.
That said, agriculture always has many challenges, noted Price, with the biggest factor being weather, which no one can control. Yet, “Kazakhstan has large amount of grasslands, feed, and a good work force,” he said.
Infrastructural development is key, added Handbury: “Everything from the ground up is there, it just needs to be developed. Roads need to be built, farm supply shops opened, processing plants positioned properly throughout the country, as well as looking at the right places to position cattle feedlots,” he said, adding, “Agricultural schools need to be built to train people how to do all these modern jobs.” In short all you need is “skill and direction to put them together”, he said.
However, it is going to be long wait before the beef sector starts bringing in cash, Yerubayev warned: “The beef industry itself is very complicated and takes a lot of effort, time and money. In this case people should be interested to stay in that industry in the hope that, eventually, they will start generating cash. The payback period is not short and you are dealing with biological assets that need your attention almost 24/7. Cattle tend to get sick, die and everything else,” he said.
But Yerubayev was optimistic. “We need to understand that the true beef industry in the former Soviet Union did not exist, but now the potential and opportunities are tremendous,” he said.