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  March 1st, 2012 | Written by


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 As humans become wealthier—in the Mideast and China, for instance—they abandon diets based on fruits, vegetables and grains in favor of meat and dairy products.

 Beef and dairy cows eat up to 30 pounds of hay per day. But drought and lousy infrastructure make it difficult for China to satisfy its skyrocketing internal demand for hay; in the Mideast, according to Hay & Forage Grower, governments have routed “scarce water resources to . . . higher-value fruit and vegetable crops,”.

 So, beef and dairy ranchers in both regions have turned to hay growers in the United States. Grower Greg Braun meets those ranchers at conferences around the world—in his capacity as president of Border Valley Trading, a 23-year-old California-based company, and as member of the U.S.-based National Hay Association.

 Braun says Border Valley ships to “about 18 different countries. Three years ago, we shipped to about six different countries, so that tells you how much growth there has been in the export industry on alfalfa.”

5 Border Valley is representative of a broader uptick in the market. U.S. hay exports have doubled—from about 2% of all production in 2006 to nearly 4% today. “Any way you look at it, the growth has been striking,” a California state ag expert recently told Hay & Forage.

 As rising demand drives up prices for U.S. hay, Mideast buyers have gone on a global buying spree of a different sort, reports Arabian Business magazine: “The UAE and other Gulf countries are investing in agricultural land in countries such as Egypt, Sudan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan to grow fodder, and they will begin to challenge the U.S. companies.”

 Braun uses Los Angeles-based freight-forwarder International Solutions, an expert in the ways of hay exports. Starting with just one grower a decade ago, International now moves about 200 40-foot containers of hay per week for at least 25 growers, says Joe Zizi, CEO of International Solutions. Most of that hay leaves through the ports of Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland and Seattle/Tacoma.

 Zizi has discovered that real-life ranchers are like their cinematic counterparts: “They like to meet face to face to do a deal. They’re salt-of-the-earth people. Their word is gold, is their bond. They don’t need a contract. A handshake is all they want.” Zizi shakes their hands and then manages their international letters of credit, cargo insurance and invoicing; makes sure the packing lists match the letters of credit, creates the ocean bills of lading and handles government reporting.

 To prepare his hay for export, Braun compresses the conventional 48-inch bale to about half its length, and packs 24 metric tons into each 40-foot container. The hay has a shelf life of one year.

10  One benefit of the U.S.-China trade deficit: U.S. growers have a edge over their competitors (in Spain, Australia, and Canada, for example). The reason? Once emptied in the U.S., all those Chinese containers have to be filled with something for the return trip. That makes it cheaper to ship hay 6,000 miles from the Port of Los Angeles to China (about $30 a short ton) than to truck it 220 miles from Los Angeles to California’s Central Valley dairy farms (about $53).

11 If you’re looking for a Chinese burger in Shanghai, you want Malone’s American Café where the beef in your Double-Double is grown in China on a diet that likely includes California’s finest hay. “Almost all of the ingredients are obtained locally, including the meat, buns, produce and fries,” says restaurant writer Mike “Shanghai Expat” Finstad. “One ingredient that isn’t made locally is the Kraft Singles cheese slices, as cheese is not easily found in Chinese markets.” Not yet, brother.

12  A 2010 United Nations report warns that the shift toward Western diets—particularly the emphasis on dairy and meat—will produce obesity and global warming. If not fat and happy, we will be fat and warm. But we will continue to call ourselves “big-boned.”