A Russian delegation has visited the Midlands to source stock for massive ranch-style farms – after a 27-year ban on British beef and lamb was finally lifted.
Politicians, farmers and food industry leaders from Bryansk were taken on a tour of Shropshire and Staffordshire by the National Farmers Union in a bid to strengthen agricultural trade links.
The region, south west of Moscow and close to the border with Belarus and Ukraine, is developing large scale cattle farming and is looking to source 250,000 animals to add to its stocks, the NFU said.
Moscow has lifted restrictions on imports of British beef and lamb following the first Bovine Spongiform Encephalopathy (BSE) outbreak in 1986 in the UK. Russia kept the ban despite it being lifted worldwide in 2006.
John Mercer, NFU regional director, said Russian farmers were already importing cattle from America and Australia.
“When the export ban was lifted it was estimated it could be worth around £80 million to £115 million to the British livestock industry over the next three years,” Mr Mercer said.
“British produce is in demand on both home and export markets and Russia is one of the largest global importers of beef so the potential demand is huge.
“Russian trade will also benefit the UK in terms of genetics knowledge-transfer and it will help associated industries.”
The embargo was introduced during the second year of Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev’s perestroika reforms in 1986 when the first UK cow contracted BSE, also known as mad cow disease.
More than 37,000 cases of BSE a year were reported in the first half of the nineties, while almost 200 people have died from variant Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, possibly as a result of consuming BSE-infected meat.
The epidemic was halted after the use of processed animal protein in cattle fodder was banned in Britain in 1996 and in the EU in 2001.
Prospects for British lamb farmers in Russia could be promising as demand for the meat has been rising by five per cent to 10 per cent a year.
Farmer Aleksandr Kasatskii, vice governor of the Bryansk region, and others met Mr Mercer and Dan Morris of Premier Farm Marketing, at Pulverbatch in Shropshire.
The group also toured JCB headquarters in Staffordshire, before heading for talks and agricultural industry demonstrations at Harper Adams University.
The trip was organised by NFU Vice President Adam Quinney who last summer went on a trade mission to Russia with West Worcestershire MP Harriett Baldwin, UK chief veterinary officer Nigel Gibbens, Mr Morris and Neil Parish, MP for Tiverton and Honiton.
Mr Mercer said: “The levy bodies and government departments are doing vital work to open up these export markets and the MPs have played a pivotal role.
“We had progressive discussions with them and showed them some of the best the industry has to offer in Shropshire and Staffordshire.
“They were impressed with JCB which is a pioneering, world renowned company and Harper Adams which among its other impressive credentials is the leading educator of the next generation of farmers.
“The farm visit to meet NFU member Robin Griffiths, at Walcot, showed them that farming here is progressive and delivers in terms of food production and efficiency.”