WASHINGTON – China reopened its borders to U.S. beef earlier this year and soon Montana ranchers will be helping to feed some of the country’s 1.3 billion people.

“When they get a taste of U.S. beef, they love it and they want more of it. There’s a bigger middle class in China than the entire U.S. population. So, this is a foot in the door that we think long-term has a tremendous opportunity for U.S. cattlemen,” National Cattlemen’s Beef Association CEO Kendal Frazier said on Wednesday.

Montana isn’t wasting any time. US Senator Steve Daines announced on Wednesday that China’s largest online retailer, JD.com, had signed a deal with the Montana Stockgrowers Association to invest at least $200 million in Montana’s beef industry over the next several years.

“This is a fantastic step. Montana Stockgrowers Association has always been an avid marketing team to try to get Montana beef out to the world. It’s the safest, highest-quality beef out there. Montana is home to the highest quality beef in the country,”  Montana Stockgrowers Association President Bryan Mussard from Dillon said.

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For Montana ranchers, export markets like China also make a difference on sale day.

“No question. We export 13 percent of our domestic production overseas now. It’s one of the factors that’s driving the better cattle prices we’ve seen this fall,” Frazier said.

The Chinese do have special requirements on Montana cattle to be exported. “The cattle have to be NHTC, which is non-hormone treated, and they have to be sourced from the ranch,” Mussard said.

Beef is the largest growing meat sector in China and with agreements like this, Montana ranchers will soon be feeding their growing appetite for U.S. beef.

The agreement also says JD.com will seek to invest up to another $100 million to build a processing plant in Montana to support Montana beef production, with construction beginning as early as 2018.

MTN’s Russell Nemetz