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Idaho agriculture unharmed by Russian embargo

First Published      Last Updated Aug 22 2014 05:11 pm

Twin Falls, Idaho • A state agricultural official says Idaho's $17 million in annual agriculture exports to Russia are not likely to be affected by the country's recent ban on U.S. food.

Laura Johnson, the market bureau chief for the Idaho State Department of Agriculture, told The Times-News that 90 percent of what Idaho sends to Russia is live dairy cattle, which are exempt from the embargo.

Earlier this month, Russia suspended food imports from the United States, Canada, the 28-nation European Union, Norway and Australia for a year in retaliation for sanctions imposed on Russia related to the conflict in Ukraine. The ban, which was announced by Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev on Aug. 7, affects meat — including all forms of beef, pork, poultry, smoked foods, sausages, fish — vegetables, roots, fruits, nuts and all dairy products.

Russia is the 14th largest market for Idaho's agricultural exports, and live dairy cattle make up $15.1 million in receipts. Idaho farmers also send seed potatoes to Russia, but they are also exempt from the embargo.

Oakley cattleman Kody Beck has sent thousands of Holstein heifers from Idaho to Russia in the past five or six years. He also sends cattle to Egypt, Kazakhstan and Turkey.

"The last couple years, the market has been very, very strong," Beck said.

The process works like this: Beck buys young dairy heifers, mostly from California, and then trucks him to one of his feedlots in Cassia County to be impregnated. Typically a delegation of Russians comes to Idaho to choose heifers from Beck's herd, and then the chosen animals are quarantined for three weeks before they make the 21-day trek to Russia on a ship.

Heifers sent to Kazakhstan, between Russia and China, are trucked to Chicago and flown out of O'Hare International Airport — 180 cows at a time.