Kazakhstan visitors tour South Dakota ag ventures

Farm Forum

MADISON (AP) — Temperatures were in the teens at the Bruns Angus ranch north of Madison, but the chill felt like nothing t three visitors from Kazakhstan.

It was three times colder in their homeland, they claimed, with about 10 inches of snow on the ground, the Tri-State Neighbor reported.

Two producers from northern Kazakhstan, accompanied by their John Deere and Vern Eide International representative, recently toured the Bruns ranch and other operations along the Interstate 29 corridor to learn all about raising beef the Upper Midwest way – from birthing calves to processing meat. Their one-day tour of eastern South Dakota brought them to a meat locker in Elkton, the Bel Brands cheese plant in Brookings, and the South Dakota State University Opportunities Farm near Lennox.

“Every place they go, they ask a lot of questions – and a lot of good questions, too,” said Ty Eschenbaum, who organized the tour as the region’s agricultural development representative for the South Dakota Department of Agriculture.

Brothers Don and Jesse Bruns answered questions about which vaccines they use, when they call in a veterinarian, how long calves stay with their mothers, when they sell their bulls and whether they hire any help.

The foreign visitors were impressed that the family could handle the operation themselves.

“Do you sleep at all?” Sergey Glokke asked with a laugh.

Glokke is director of the Eurasia Group and a representative for the group’s John Deere equipment sales. He translated for his two clients, Ivan Malygin and Mustafa Guliyer.

Guliyer purchased some heifers from South Dakota, and he eventually wants to process the meat into salami sausage. He was impressed with the stock he got from South Dakota and looking forward to buying more cattle.

“This is very high quality. It means the feeding and genetics is very good,” he said through the interpreter.

Eschenbaum took his first trip to Kazakhstan earlier this fall. It’s an important market for U.S. exports right now as Kazakhstan rebuilds its beef industry.

Before the Central Asian nation gained independence from the Soviet Union, farms were run by the state. That system dissolved in 1991, and agriculture saw a decade of decline.

“They wiped out their cow herds, and now they’re working to rebuild them,” Eschenbaum said. “They want to do so with the best genetics they can find. That’s why they’re looking at the northern U.S.”

Kazakhstan is sparsely populated with a vast amount of land to farm. Putting that land to work could be the basis of a big export business for the country.

For the past two years, a group from South Dakota, Montana and Kansas visited Russia to meet with potential buyers. A third trip was planned for this fall, but when Russia announced a trade embargo on all food imports in early August, the trip was canceled. A small delegation from South Dakota went to Kazakhstan instead.

“We met a very good contact that hosted us in Kazakhstan, and it made for a really great mission,” Eschenbaum said.

Eschenbaum, 27, grew up on a farm north of Lake Preston. His parents, Jeff and Jody Eschenbaum, are part of Wienk Charolais.

He started working for the South Dakota Department of Agriculture after earning a degree in ag business and entrepreneurship from South Dakota State University. His goal is to recruit companies to South Dakota and help South Dakotan companies expand. In doing so, he has worked with everyone from beef and corn producers and ethanol companies to breweries, wineries and farmers markets.

“Getting to work in such a diversified, ever-changing, fast-paced environment is exactly what I wanted to do,” Eschenbaum said.

His boss, Agricultural Development Division Director Paul Kostboth, said Eschenbaum has done a great job for the state.

“His understanding of today’s global economy and passion for all aspects of agriculture, our state’s No. 1 industry, has repeatedly proven invaluable,” Kostboth said.

On this visit to Kazakhstan, Eschenbaum and others toured ranches and met with ranch managers, industry professionals and companies that would finance trade deals.

“We use it as a tool to just promote South Dakota – to promote what we have here and what we’re good at,” Eschenbaum said.

South Dakota farmers have the opportunity to sign up to join such trade missions, giving them a chance to see different operations.

The trade deals that South Dakota strikes overseas mean more than simply shipping cattle to another county. Manufacturing companies also can get in on the deal when there’s need for equipment such as pens.

The foreign trade partners also are eager for people who know how to handle cows to work ranches there. “They would hire them in a heartbeat,” Eschenbaum said.

South Dakota doesn’t spend a lot of time developing international trade, so the goal is to focus on one specific area, Eschenbaum explained. While South America has some promise, he said state officials probably will keep their sights on the former Soviet Union because of the good contacts they’ve made there already.

There are still trade opportunities with Russia, Eschenbaum said. Genetic imports aren’t part of the yearlong embargo, but Eschenbaum said the business has cooled off quite a bit because of conflicts with Ukraine and the political climate there.

But he’s hopeful trade will rebound.

“If they’re as committed to getting into the beef industry as they say they are, they could sure use our cattle and our expertise,” he said.