BISMARCK, N.D. - A North Dakota company that has sent thousands of the state's winter-hardy cows to Kazakhstan since 2010 has yet to ink a deal this year with the oil-rich country.
Dan Price, who owns Bismarck-based Global Beef Consultants LLC with his brother, Bill, said the former Soviet state has been increasingly importing cows from Canada and Australia to help build its beef industry. But he said a deal may still be in the works for North Dakota cattle by the end of the year.
"It's still up in the air and we're still working on it," he said.
More than 5,000 Angus and Hereford cows bred to withstand North Dakota's brutal cold winters have been airfreighted in jumbo jets to Kazakhstan over the past three years to help rebuild the country's cattle industry. Most of Kazakhstan's cattle were sold or slaughtered after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, and its herd had been reduced from about 35 million animals in the early 1990s to about 2 million.
Fred Helbling, who owns a ranch near Mandan with his brothers, Wayne and Jim, has provided cows to Global Beef in past years. The brothers were among several North Dakota ranchers who hosted 15 Kazakh cattlemen last year. The Kazakhs also get tips in tending cattle from veteran North Dakota cowboys.
"So far, it's been pretty quiet on the Kazakhstan front - we're not holding our breath," Helbling said Thursday. "That's OK because we got pretty good demand here."
North Dakota cows typically have thicker coats and more marbling and fatty tissue, traits needed to withstand the state's harsh winters that are similar to those in the central Asian country, ranchers say.
Helbling said a strong domestic market may be driving prices higher than the Kazakh's want to pay.
"It may be they're getting them for less money," he said.
Shipping costs also tend to be higher from landlocked North Dakota, than from Canada or Australia, which use ocean freighters to haul cattle, he said.
In the past, North Dakota cattle have been loaded in wooden pens in the bellies of jumbo jets for the 22-hour flight to Kazakhstan. Shipping cattle by rail and ship from North Dakota would take about three weeks, Helbling said.
"That's too much of a hassle," he said. "Planes are the method of choice with what we're doing here."
Dean Gorder, executive director of the North Dakota Trade Office, said the state already has a strong trading relationship with Kazakhstan, the state's 17th-largest trading partner. North Dakota exports to the country including cattle, livestock equipment and agricultural machinery have exceeded $247 million in the last decade, agency data show.