Sunwu County near the city of Heihe (and right on the Russian border) has built a breeding programme using imported Angus cows and finance from the Haier Group, an industrial giant that also runs a fund to finance promising agricultural projects.
In 2016, Sunwu officials in signed a finance deal with Haier (best known as China’s leading white goods maker) and Beijing-based Xin Mao Hua Import & Export Trading Co, a government-linked entity licensed to import cattle and semen. Xin Mao imported Angus cows from Australia to kick-start the Sunwu herd. The initial deal with Haier set up a 30,000-cow herd in Sunwu, but local officials now want to produce a total of 100,000 animals by 2022, with calves fattened and slaughtered locally.
Photos published by Sunwu’s local government show Angus cattle eating hay indoors in slatted shed-type housing. Wearing green and yellow ear tags, the cattle are spread across 22 different bases and are housed and fed by local peasants who have been organised into breeding cooperatives to breed and feed suckler cow beef herds.
With the imprimatur of regional government, it’s not surprising the project has drawn some influential backers: the beef committee of the government-funded China Animal Husbandry Association as well as the animal husbandry research centre at the prestigious China Academy of Sciences both send researchers to Sunwu. Also, the head of the beef research centre of the China Agriculture University has visited the Sunwu project with researchers, as has the China Breeding Veterinary Science Association, which offers research and advice on nutrition and herd health.
The targets the project has set itself, however, look ambitious. Sunwu wants to build a whole value chain of breeding, which will see 100,000 cattle in 2022 yielding annual revenues of RMB850 million (m) and profits of RMB320m. The calculations are based on Chinese retail beef prices, but don’t take into account potential downturns in price or problems with animal husbandry given the relative newness of cattle production locally.
Furthermore, the government wants to build associated slaughtering, processing plants and also tap into value-added products – for example, it sees a side industry in turning manure into fertiliser products for sale. Likewise, there will be jobs in logistics and marketing for the region’s young graduates.
Angus cattle are less numerus than Charolais, Simmental and Limousin in Chinese cattle sales. This could change with the Sunwu plans, although a shortage of supply has ensured Angus product scores premium prices locally.
In Sunwu, local government has been keen to reinforce suitable local conditions for cattle farming and grass-based feed production. “Sunwu has wide spaces, good soil, cool climate”, according to propaganda from local government, which is keen to build alternative industries in a region now known as China’s rust belt; it was the cradle of the country’s industrialisation in earlier decades, partly due to its proximity to Russia, which aided its communist ally’s industrialisation in the 1950s.
Angus beef has become a marketing phenomenon across Asia, in part due to the popularity of cuisine and dining trends from Japan, where marbled Angus beef is prized. Supermarkets and restaurants in Beijing stress the Angus origins of meat cuts. Fatty beef is seen as a delicacy in Chinese cooking, making marbled product sought-after.