School of Natural and Environmental Sciences

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American agriculture students look to North East cattle businesses for Brexit answers

Twenty students from Montana State University's College of Agriculture visited North East farms. They were here as part of their studies in ‘Agriculture in a Global Context’.

They wanted to get an international perspective on agriculture and trade policy. They visited Wagyu, wild cattle and a Black Angus herd during the successful trip.

Karl Christensen, from the School of Natural and Environmental Sciences, organised the visit. It was the American group’s first exposure to the beef sector of the United Kingdom.

The University wanted to help them learn about the:

  • UK perspective on global commodity markets
  • potential impact of Brexit on the UK and European agri-business sector

Montana to Monkridge

The students went to Monkridge Farm, Otterburn. It is a small premium Wagyu beef herd producing Wagyu breeding stock and F1 cross Angus/Wagyu beef.

They had a chance to learn about the challenges and opportunities of the business. It focuses on producing a highly differentiated product. This is in a marketplace which has traditionally been more commodity-oriented.

The group then travelled to Chillingham Castle. They saw the unique wild cattle enclosed in a closed herd there for the past 700 years.

They visited Broome Park Farm, Alnwick, a commercial beef cattle operation. It focuses on producing prime grass-fed Aberdeen Angus cattle.

The students had a chance to view their Black Angus herd. They talked with the Burrell family about breeding, raising and marketing cattle.

Discussions focused on:

  • production challenges in a high altitude area with uncertain weather
  • a supply chain that is slow to evolve
  • changes in markets that might result from Brexit and the Common Agricultural Policy

Many lessons to learn

Montana State University Agricultural Economics Professor Anton Bekkerman led the class.

He said their international focus was agricultural and trade policy. They wanted know how current issues affecting the United States parallel with the UK.

Dr Bekkerman said there were many lessons to learn from the changing trade and farm policies in the UK. He referred to how the country's agricultural and food industries are transitioning.

He added: “The idea is to have our students develop international perspectives. They need to know the issues, networks and ideas they can bring back to Montana.”

Many of the students in the class come from production agriculture backgrounds. Most will either return to careers on their crop or cattle operations or work in the food supply sector.

Dr Bekkerman said it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for the students. It gave them opportunity to learn from, provide insights to, and create professional networks with North East counterparts.

He added that it could lead to lifelong connections. It could benefit agricultural sectors on both sides of the Atlantic.

Research on a global scale

Mr Christensen said: “It was rewarding to take the students to meet a producer who has been very successful after importing prime Wagyu genetics, in the form of embryos, from some of the best herds in Montana.

"The Chillingham cattle are unique. Their 700-year enclosure creates many interesting discussions.

"The kind invite by the Burrell family at Broome Park made all the students immediately feel at home. They too have interests in Montana genetics in the form of frozen Angus embryos and semen. This made for some lively discussions.”

As part of a larger tour of the UK, the group also:

  • met and discussed policies and their implications with members of the National Farmers Union and Agricultural and Horticultural Development Board
  • learned from researchers at the Cambridge University, University of Sheffield, Newcastle University, and the Scotland's Rural College
  • met and exchanged ideas with crop and cattle producers throughout England and Scotland
  • visited and learned about the history of British agriculture and how it has evolved over time
Students from Montana State University's College of Agriculture visited North East cattle businesses.
Students from Montana State University's College of Agriculture visited North East cattle businesses.

published on: 7 June 2018