An opportunity for Montana beef producers

Dwight Harriman
Yellowstone Newspapers

After bashing China on the campaign trail as a currency manipulator, President Donald Trump has been trying recently to make friends with the country, inviting Chinese President Xi Jinping to his Mar-a-Lago Resort and backing off on the currency charge.
And for Montana beef producers, that’s just fine.
Because recent developments show China could indeed become a big friend — of theirs. The Miles City Star reported last week that China, after banning beef imports since 2003 because of spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, eased restrictions late last year and could allow some beef back into the country in as little as a few months to a year. The Chinese are apparently pretty picky about what they let in, not just because of mad cow disease but because they want their meat produced a certain way. 
One Montana company, the Wacker family’s Miles City-based Cross Four Cattle Ranch, produces what the Chinese want with its All Natural Beef designation, meaning “no antibiotics, no added hormones, no steroid implants and no animal byproducts … fed to cattle,” the Star reported. 
Another important thing for the Chinese is what’s called “Source and Age Verification,” meaning the lineage of each calf purchased for raising is guaranteed, something else the Cross Four Cattle Ranch does.
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., was recently part of congressional delegation that went to China to push for opening Montana markets to the country. The Star reports Daines hand carried a cooler of Wacker beef to Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.  
That’s what you call marketing. It was no small gesture in a country where, according to the Star, a growing middle class wants to eat more beef.
There is an opening here for Montana cattle producers like the Cross Four Ranch who willing to meet what the Chinese want in their beef.
The beef industry is slowly changing to meet today’s palate, producing more natural and organic beef. It represents a big shift from traditional Montana ranching and must be undertaken carefully. 
But ranchers willing to consider changes may soon have a large — as in 1 billion people — opportunity before them.

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