REGINA — A trip to Canada at the beginning of winter was considered a treat for guests touring Hereford operations before and after Canadian Western Agribition.
It was a repeat visit to see old friends for Pepe Bonica from Uruguay and a first time trip for Tony Bradshaw of Herefordshire, England. Both were interested in checking out Canadian bloodlines at the Regina show to see what might work back home.
Bonica is the newly appointed secretary general of the World Hereford Association. Uruguay is hosting the 2016 World Hereford Forum in Montevideo.
Herefords are the dominant breed in his country and have thrived in Uruguayan conditions, where they can graze year round. Little crossbreeding is practiced, so 65 percent of the national herd is straight bred Hereford.
“Most of our steers are straight Herefords,” he said at the Nov. 11-16 show.
As a result, producers are always looking to freshen up their genetic pool.
Uruguay is a small country heavily dependent on exports. There are three million people and 11 million beef cattle. With that large cattle population, Uruguay has emerged as the sixth largest beef exporter shipping to 80 countries.
It offers full electronic traceability and no growth hormone implants. Antibiotics are allowed only for disease treatment.
The best customers are traditionally in the European Union, where producers earn the highest value, but Russia can be depended on to take large volumes.
China is turning out to be the dark horse in the trade world.
“China is astonishing,” Bonica said.
“2013 for us has been amazing. China was our first market for soybeans and wool and now for beef.”
The Uruguay Meat Institute has reported that China accepted 25 percent of Uruguay’s beef exports for the last agriculture year ending June 2013. Total exports reached 390,000 tonnes.
The country started buying offal products, but a strong middle class wants more hind quarter cuts. The more expensive middle meats still go to Europe.
Canada and the United States took 20 percent of Uruguay’s exports during the same period.
It’s all about the beef for Bradshaw, who was looking to buy Canadian Hereford embryos and semen.
“We’re interested young breeders and hopefully we find some genetics to take home,” he said.
They had already visited Farmfair in Edmonton and have travelled to a number of prominent operations in Alberta and Saskatchewan to see if they can do business.
“They all have good cattle,” he said.
The British Hereford tended to be smaller framed until about 20 years ago, but the United Kingdom now follows the European Union grading system, which values greater muscle mass and leanness. The traditional British breeds have had to catch up in frame and muscle.
“We’re up against the big continental grading system,” said Bradshaw.
Being part of the EU opens markets for British farmers, but they must also abide by the continent’s rules, even though they do not always align with what traditional British cattle can do in terms of meat quality.
“The tide is turning and people are looking for taste again,” he said.
British grocery chains work with producers to offer their own version of branded beef. For example, consumers might end up buying Waitrose’s certified Hereford beef, he said. “People recognize the name as good quality beef. People want local beef and they don’t mind paying for it.”
Supermarkets set out specifications for how cattle are raised with consideration given to environmental care and animal welfare as well as how the beef is cut and aged. All beef can be traced back to the farms where it was raised.
The country does not have a feedlot system, so the cattle graze longer and receive grain such as barley and oats at the end of the finishing period, said Bradshaw, who owns Freetown Herefords.
Import and export rules are easing in the wake of the BSE tragedy. Beef from cattle younger than 48 months, instead of the earlier 30-month limit, is now allowed into the system.
However, there are other challenges, including European badgers, which are taking over the English countryside. They are vicious, leave large burrows in pastures and carry the same tuberculosis bacteria that infect cattle.
Tuberculosis has become a serious problem and forces regular testing of beef farms.
The farm is quarantined if there is a positive test, and testing continues every 60 days until the disease is gone.
Badgers have been a protected species since the 1960s, and the designation has been controversial, he said.