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30 Jul, 2010 05:23

Kaluga Region: Russia’s beef cluster

Just a short ride southwest of Moscow lie the fruitful lands of the Kaluga region. Hectares of fields make for great farming. With the help of American breeders, the region hopes to supply the whole country with steak.

Kaluga’s sparkling past and bright future lie from exploring space to feeding the whole nation with meat.

Guides show tourists places where the inventor of the rocket Konstantin Tsiolkovsky lived, but few know of the region’s rich agricultural heritage.

Farmer Jamie Burken says to better understand the needs of her cows she imagines she is one of them. And there is nowhere she would rather be than the Kaluga Region.

Enough sun, enough rain and enough snow to keep the grass growing.

“The Kaluga Region is great, because we have got a very big open area of land. There’re a lot of acres, hectares of land per each cow,” Jamie Burken says.

Jamie is originally from North Dakota in America. Two years ago, she and her husband Erik moved to Russia to help local farmers produce the best beef in the world.

“It was difficult at first. Russia doesn’t have the infrastructure which America has right now, but it’s improving. The one obstacle is people. In America there’s already been families that have farms that have raised cattle. And their children understand how to do it as this is how they were raised. But here no one has raised cattle in big numbers. And they don’t have the knowledge,” Erik Burken, head manager at Angus Genetics Center, says.

The first cowboy in the history of Kaluga, Erik is out the whole day looking after cows and teaching locals such know-how as multiplied genetics.

You could get over 200 steaks out of one cow, but her eggs could produce even more – over 400 embryos in a year, which means a whole new farm. One Russian businessman decided not to sell meat, but to sell the potential.

The farm raises Aberdeen Angus beef, which will ultimately end up on the table as steak. But to feed such a country as Russia, the farm first has to multiply its stock to many thousands.

“Russia right now imports one million tonnes of meat a year from all over the world. But beef – there’s a huge deficit of high-quality beef. That’s just an unbelievable deficit, because the primary source of beef is dairy cattle. No longer used for milking, it goes to the beef plants, is slaughtered. They get made into sausage, hamburgers,” Vlad Gribovsky, partner at Angus Genetics Center says.

The farm turned from importing live cattle to importing frozen embryos. Multiplying is quicker and cheaper. The first generation of Russian-born heifers is about to appear soon.

But as farm grows, there is one problem still to solve.

“Language barrier was the biggest difficulty. I was in a local grocery store. And I was going to buy some meat or chicken and I couldn’t read the package. And the lady at the counter started some flapping and making some chicken noises. And it was like, ‘That’s chicken!’” Jamie Burken says.

The producers promise that the labeling of the beef bred in Kaluga will be in several languages. The farmers are convinced their Russian-produced beef will be of the finest export quality.