Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Macedonia PM seeks Manatee beef briefing

The Republic of Macedonia in southeastern Europe is looking to a Manatee County cattleman to help improve its cattle line and meat processing.

About a month ago, Macedonia Prime Minister Nikola Gruevski sent an official letter of invitation to Manatee County fourth-generation cattleman Jim Strickland to visit his country Tuesday through Nov. 20 to study its herds, Strickland said Friday.

When Strickland, who also works for the Manatee County Property Appraiser's Office, arrives in Macedonia he will also bring a packet prepared by a team of University of Florida and Florida Department of Agriculture personnel about what Florida agriculture can provide to Macedonia, Strickland said.

"Anything we can sell to Macedonia from Florida is good for us," Strickland said. "We need every market."

Not being a tropical country, Macedonia may not be able to use Florida cattle, but might use Florida orange pulp for cattle feed, Strickland said.

Strickland's trip gets a thumbs-up from one local cattle insider.

"I think we should be looking for international trade for all Florida agriculture and cattle," said Travis Seawright, who recently retired as a University of Florida extension livestock agent. "With corn prices going up and cattle prices going down we need all the markets we can get."

Gruevski, who took office July 28 in the country whose capital city is Skopje, population 600,000, heard about Strickland through Strickland's trips to Cuba to help that country's beef industry, Strickland said.

In 2005, Strickland helped broker a $1 million cattle sale between Cuba and John Parke Wright, a Naples investor, according to Herald archives.

Most of the deal fell through when 118 of the 140 Florida beef cattle scheduled to go to Cuba tested positive for Bluetongue virus.

Bluetongue is not a virus that Florida ranchers test for since it doesn't harm cattle or humans, according to Herald archives.

But the Cubans may have been worried about the disease jumping to their sheep population, said Dr. Owen Rae, a University of Florida associate professor.

Strickland and two other ranchers from outside of Manatee County will meet with the Macedonia minister of agriculture, minister of economic development and prime minister and will take an intense three-day tour of the country, Strickland said.

"We will look at their cattle genetics and pastures," Strickland said.

At the same time, Jerry Greenfield, co-owner of Ben & Jerry's from Vermont, will be visiting Macedonia to line up a dairy and ice cream deal, Strickland said.

Strickland's personality and cattle knowledge are perfect for the job he is attempting to do, Seawright said.

"Jim has been with Florida Cattleman's Association a long time," he said. "He's real easygoing and a likeable person. But he's also real cattle-savvy. He keeps up to date with the markets in Florida and the Midwest."

Macedonia's politics have stabilized and the country is a candidate for joining the European Union, Strickland said.

"The United States is pushing for economic development with this country," Strickland said. "We are trying to get them in the EU."

Strickland said it's been hard to get much information about how much cattle Macedonia has right now and what shape it's in.

So, he goes into this adventure with an open mind.

"Any time you can help someone, somewhere, it feels pretty good," Strickland said. "This is a new country, but it's also an ancient country. We always have to remember, underneath all the politics, we are all just humans trying to get along together."

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