Ritz touts genetics on trade mission to former Soviet Union states

Manitoba breeding stock, both cattle and hogs, are heading to Russia and Kazakhstan.

In Russia, Genesus has secured an $8-million contract for 6,500 breeding swine, and in Kazakhstan, Xports International has sold Canadian purebred cattle valued at almost $3 million.

Jim Long, president of Genesus, said that deal was inked with a company in the Siberian region that plans to invest over $100 million in a large-scale hog farm.

“This is a big deal. It’s the biggest export we’ve ever done,” said Long, who figures it will take eight 747s to ferry the live hogs to Russia.

Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who recently concluded an agricultural trade mission with stops in both countries, said Russia and Kazakhstan’s interest in Canadian agricultural products and expertise is increasing.

“Our government is committed to increasing Canadian exports to world markets,” said Ritz in a release. “By creating trade and business opportunities with countries like Russia and Kazakhstan, we are increasing farmers’ profitability and contributing to the economic growth of our country.”

International sales are nothing new for Genesus, which registered 58,000 head last year, making it the largest supplier of swine genetics company in the world.

“We fly a planeload of pigs somewhere in the world almost every week,” said Long. “We have the largest supply in the world and our genetics are very good. We’re globally competitive.”

In the past, it has sold large lots of breeding stock to China, the Philippines, and Thailand, and many other countries.

Canadian genetics are in demand worldwide due to the industry’s advanced technologies and its good record for health and biosecurity, added Long.

Even with rapid expansion in Russia’s livestock industry, the country still has a long way to go to achieve self-sufficiency in pork production. At current per capita consumption rates, the country is only able to supply 30 per cent of demand, said Long.

Given its vast space and resource base, Russia could eventually become a meat-exporting powerhouse, but significant hurdles will need to be overcome first.

“They could be globally competitive, but they are 20 years behind technologically,” he said.

Kristi Guilford, co-owner and marketing manager for Clearwater-based Xports International, said that the $3-million deal covers consulting services and about 600 head of both bred and open purebred Holstein heifers.

With a 200,000-kg payload capacity on a 747, Guilford said they will all likely fit on two planes.

It’s not the largest deal the company has ever arranged with the Kazakhs and Russians, but it is the four-year-old company’s first-ever shipment of dairy cattle. Previous deals have been for purebred beef cattle, mainly Hereford, Angus and Charolais.

“They have a big, empty country there to fill up,” said Guilford, with a laugh. “We hope we can help them with that.”

The sale was in the works for over a year prior to Ritz’s trade mission, said Guilford, but she added that having the minister along helped open doors, especially in government, that might otherwise be closed to private businesses.

A press release from Ritz’s office stated that Canada exported over $21 million of agri-food products to Kazakhstan in 2012, including $7.6 million worth of purebred cattle, making Kazakhstan Canada’s top market for purebred cattle.

Canadian agri-food exports to Russia were worth more than $563 million in 2012.

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