Russia looks to beef up its cattle industry

A man drives his cattle across a snowy mountain road 80 km outside of Vladikavkaz in the town Buron, 01 February 2008.

Steve Chiotakis: Staying in Russia now, 1,500 head of top beef cattle recently arrived there from Montana. A half dozen cowboys too. It's a unique joint venture between two Russian businessmen and an American rancher.

Peter van Dyk went to see how the project is going.


Peter van Dyk: Darrell Stevenson has spent most of the past two months in the southern Russian region of Voronezh, working to create a cattle ranch out of nothing. It's nowhere near finished, which makes the Russian winter harder to deal with.

Darrell Stevenson: This storm today is not good at all, you can see for yourself we can't see but maybe 200 meters out here. The wind is blowing and these calves need some protection.

Back in the warmth of a western-style bunkhouse built for his crew, Stevenson explains the sheer scale of what he and his two Russian partners are trying to do.

Stevenson: This will be the nucleus for establishing a commercial beef cowherd in this region of Russia and hopefully to extend further than that.

Russia wants to produce 85 percent of its own meat by the year 2020. Right now, Russians eat less than half as much beef as the average American, and almost all of their beef comes from old dairy cows and is best used for soup.

In the makeshift barn, more than 100 cows and calves shelter from the weather. Alexander Naritsyn is the head veterinarian on the ranch. He says the $18 million project will help Russia's farmers meet the government's goal.

Alexander Naritsyn: This is a very ambitious project, but it's necessary. In Russia right now, 1 percent of cattle are beef cattle so our project is enormous, but it's a drop in the bucket.

Stevenson says the soil here is richer and the climate better for farming than back in Montana.

Stevenson: In five years, I wouldn't be surprised one bit to have 5,000 to 10,000 head of cattle roaming pastures within an hour's drive from this location.

That would be nothing in Stevenson's home state, but in Russia, it would be a huge step forward.

In Southern Russia, I'm Peter van Dyk for Marketplace.

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