To Russia with love

    I dropped an email note to Les Halliday, Prince Edward Island’s beef specialist and regular contributor to Atlantic Beef and Sheep with his “Letter from the Island” column. He replied from Russia. 

Aha, hobnobbing with Vladimir Putin at the Sochi Olympics! No, Les wrote back, “Not Olympics. I am in Orenburg doing workshops on beef.”

    Well, someone’s got to help those Russian cattle farmers learn how to provide Larry and Pat Ward’s Herefords the kind of TLC they were raised to expect and thrive under on Willow Pond Farm in Nova Scotia’s Musquodoboit Valley.

    Larry and Pat are not the only farmers in the Atlantic provinces to have sold cattle to agents shipping them to Russia and countries that were once part of the Soviet Union. But they are two I had spoken with previously about the experience, now repeated several times. “We get a phone call,” says Larry, former chair of the Maritime Beef Test Society. There’s no warning. Call comes, “They want six or seven heifers.” The criteria? Hereford, heifers, open. Larry and Pat pick the candidates. 

    A few days later a truck comes by to pick them up. A week later Willow Pond gets a cheque and by afternoon Larry’s in Truro buying a new manure spreader. “Great for the local economy,” Larry observes. And so it is. A year or so ago I recall being told they were paying $1,200 each, sight-unseen. Who knows come the next phone call what they’ll be paying now that we are experiencing the best market in years – see Sean Firth’s “Market Report.”

    Who is “they,” buying truckloads of purebred cattle – Hereford and Angus primarily, if not exclusively – to ship to the former Soviet Union? It’s no great mystery and yet the information isn’t blathered about. Those who know know, and the rest of us have to dig it up. Atlantic Beef and Sheep has been meaning to do just that, but here we are with another print deadline hours away and, well, the shovel’s still in the barn.

    It is a fascinating story. To tell it right The Honorable Gerry Ritz will have to fly me over to Orenburg. Fat chance. Barring that, here’s the background based on what I understand from brief conversations with Les Halliday and others. 

    When the Soviet Union broke up, so did collective farms. Workers would find themselves with their own farm to manage. Well and good, were it not for the fact that under the collective system there is a good chance workers lacked management skills, never having had training beyond what was needed for more than their own job. “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”

    Individual farms failed. People got hungry. Farmers slaughtered and ate their breeding stock.

    And so today Willow Pond and many other farms in Atlantic Canada are re-stocking the old USSR.

    “They” bought while the market was in the tank. Smart. As Sean points out in his column in this issue, stock cows are selling for more than twice what they were going for three years ago – “A good lesson to remember: buying cows at the bottom of the cycle (if you can afford them) is the way to go.”

    After proofreading all the stories in this issue of Atlantic Beef and Sheep Anne Gray commented, “I love this magazine!” It’s the writers and the writing from so many people truly devoted to and knowing the business at hand. Reading John Duynisveld’s “Pasture Notes,” Toronto Star writer and columnist Chantal Hébert came to mind. Her expertise is national affairs, and not a sentence is filled with words that do not inform.
    That is the connection: information and idea-rich writing. I have not shared this thought with our proofreader but think she would agree that this is what makes the magazine exceptional. It is not only John but writer after writer who packs information into their columns without a waste of words. It is their fault, and that of cattle farmers and manufacturers and retailers who have stuck with us with their advertising through very lean years, that Atlantic Beef and Sheep continues in now its 25th year. 

    For a last word I’ll turn once more to Sean Firth’s column where he writes, “With spring bull buying season approaching it is important to remember that a wise investment now will pay off well in the next two to three years. A few hundred dollars saved now is poor economics – invest in good genetics. . . . There is no doubt that this spring (we) will see a very strong bull market.”

    Amen. Check out the announcements for sales in this issue of Atlantic Beef and Sheep. See you at the Bull Sale in Nappan. DvL