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Cowtown goes global: Fort Worth marketing cattle industry around the world

Globalization – it’s a cliche, a rocky road sometimes, but a growing reality in U.S. trade circles, and it’s getting a fresh, energetic initiative in Cowtown.

Fifth-generation South African rancher and now Fort Worth-transplant, PJ Budler is an international trade promoter who founded the Champions of the World series to enhance international marketing of cattle breeds and genetics. While the globe-trotting Budler, 35, certainly does not claim to be the first person with a world view of the beef cattle industry, he just may be the prime promoter, the right person at the right time, to accelerate the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo’s long-term, through gradual – some critics say too slow – evolution toward globalization.

And he’s not limiting his efforts to the Stock Show.

“Our goal has always been to legitimize Fort Worth as the world’s Cowtown,” Budler said recently following his fourth Hereford Champions of the World presentation and the second such event during the 23-day Stock Show.

Budler announced the 2015 Hereford Champion of the World bull and Miss World female – and their winning breeders, selected by independent judges in December – in the West Arena at this year’s Stock Show. He also announced the world finalists, selected from four huge regions – South America, Asia/Africa, Europe and North America.

For the first time, U.S. ranchers won with both the bull and the heifer/cow; both ranchers are Stock Show regulars headquartered in Texas with partners.

“PJ’s hard work and dedication has made the Hereford Champion of the World event a great forum for Hereford breeders from around to world,” Stock Show President and General Manager Brad Barnes said in an email to Fort Worth Business. “The Stock Show is proud to have played a role in its success thus far.”

The nonprofit Fort Worth Stock Show, as it traditionally does for its open and junior livestock events, contributed a portion of the $28,000 in prize money ($14,000 in this case) for the breeders of the world and regional champions. Six partners and two sponsors donated the rest of the money, Budler said.

No surprise here. The Stock Show has publicly welcomed international visitors for most, if not all, of its 120 years, has privately encouraged U.S.-foreign cattle and horse trades for decades and has officially but quietly facilitated international trade in cattle genetics – frozen semen and embryos – at least since the 1992 show. Plus, outside Stock Show channels, international business links have connected generations of Texas breeders/ranchers and their foreign counterparts.

However, there’s no doubt that the U.S. beef industry and a number of other, often bigger U.S. and foreign livestock shows, such as the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, and other entities have been the leaders in promoting international cattle genetics trade.

For Budler and his wife/business partner, Koula Budler, whose efforts started in earnest in 2011-2012, the optimum word is “more” – as in generating more international “awareness,” education, recognition, introductions, ranch and livestock show tours, breed marketing, cattle genetics deals and more Fort Worth promotion – and, he says with sincerity, “more goodwill.”

With tour groups last year and this year, the Budlers have contributed to the Stock Show’s international visitors tally. Since registering 541 visitors at the Stock Show International Suite in 2012, the numbers have grown to 727 in 2013, to 1,134 in 2014 and 1,661 last year, before slipping back to 1,161 this year, according to Stock Show data. Last year 94 countries were represented.

Since its founding in 1991, the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo International Committee and its now 26 volunteers have been hosting international guests in the Will Rogers center.

They “provide or arrange interpretation services for foreign buyers attending Stock Show events and auctions,” Stock Show publicity manager Matt Brockman said in an email. “They also arrange tours or site visits to local ranches, equipment dealers and service businesses that cater to the livestock industry.”

Brockman said global interest is expected to grow in the Stock Show, with the International Committee becoming “increasingly relevant to the livestock industry especially in the area of purebred livestock genetics.”

In 2005, the International Committee was reporting an average of 800 foreigners registering at the show, representing 50-75 countries.

Also in the past, committee members and the Texas Department of Agriculture have, for example, facilitated Texas exports of ostrich hides to Mexico for tanning and then shipping to Fort Worth-based Justin Boots’ factories elsewhere and to other U.S. customers.

But there remains a lot of potential for international recognition for the Stock Show.

Just witness the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo’s long-term commitment to international development. Since 1949-1950, it has been an international role model for any livestock show.

In recent years, it has registered about 2,500-2,600 foreign guests annually from 85-90 countries and hosted by 600-plus Houston-area unpaid volunteers, who also each donate $350 in annual dues to support their self-funded Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo International Committee, show officials there said.

“We make it as much a home away from home as we can,” said Julie Shannon, who chairs the committee and is also a volunteer. “We’re very passionate about what we do.”

The Houston show’s international guest services include a hospitality room, breakfasts, lunches, social and business receptions, a computer/office/Internet center for their business needs such as buying or selling cattle genetics, transportation and shopping arrangements, interpreters and ranch tours, including a family day with barbecue, carnival rides, a cattle judging contest and more at the nearby George Ranch.

The Houston show, scheduled this year for March 1-20, features International Days from March 1-8.

During the 2015 show, direct spending by Houston’s international guests reached $2.6 million for livestock, livestock semen and embryo genetics, farm equipment and other related goods and services, Shannon said.

A 2010 University of Houston survey of international visitors to the show derived a similar estimate of $2.6 million in spending on hotels, restaurants, shopping, entertainment and other services and items, said Joel Cowley, Houston Livestock Show president and CEO.

Neither estimate includes additional private business-related spending, he said.

Also attracting international enthusiasm and participation is the Houston show’s International Wine Competition, held in November, with judging of 2,499 entries from Texas, other states and 20 countries. And there’s its World Championship Bar-B-Que Contest, with U.S. and international teams, including one from Japan and two from the United Kingdom.

“It’s a wonderful relationship that we have,” Cowley said. He credited a major share of the annual event’s international, Texas and Gulf Coast popularity to the development of the Brahman cattle breed along the Texas Gulf Coast in the early 20th century. The breed is a hybrid of cattle bloodlines derived from India, Brazil and the Caribbean and is known for being extra heat/humidity-tolerant, pest/disease-resistant, hardy when grazing on rangeland, and beefier.

The first Brahman cattle contest at the Houston show was in 1932. The breed’s popularity rocketed in Mexico, Central and South America. Crossbreeding with still-faster-growing, beefier Angus, Hereford and other European breeds sent the breed’s popularity climbing in recent decades.

Little wonder that the Budlers have initiated a Brahman Champion of the World series, too, and Cowley said he enjoyed seeing the Budlers’ Hereford event in Fort Worth.

Budler said the Houston show and livestock shows in Canada and Australia put equally strong emphases on international promotion.

Meanwhile, the Fort Worth Stock Show has the “huge plus” of its 120-year-old tradition and its cultural roots in cattle ranching, stockyards and other cattle trading and beef/meat industry business that should be built on with greater international promotion, Budler said.

“It’s a shame that more people don’t know about it. … We can’t kid ourselves and stick our heads in the sand,” he said.

“You just keep going. … I do love travel, and I love cows, probably more than I need to.”

Budler said he’s been too busy to continue managing his cattle ranching in South Africa, citing travel to 52-and-counting foreign countries, starting their Fort Worth-based venture, TheCattleMarket.net, and then moving to Fort Worth in 2012.

Budler said he learned firsthand about Hereford and other breeds from his family’s long ranching history near Queenstown, South Africa, and from his own barn, feeding, grooming, showing and sales work for a Hereford breeding farm in Scotland in 1999, after high school graduation.

The Budlers already are applying their international approach to other breeds, such as the industry’s leading beef-promoting Angus. Angus Champions of the World recognition also began in 2012. The Angus, Braford, Brahman, Brangus and (Japanese breed) Wagyu Champions of the World have all been hosted online, so far. Coming this year, Budler said, will be beefmaster, Charolais, Limousin, shorthorn and Simmental Champions of the World competitions – announced online or elsewhere.

With the marketing and promotion ventures still essentially in start-up, the Budlers’ positive results, comments, exposure and cooperation are rising among breeders and associations, at the Stock Show and in Fort Worth.

“PJ has opened a few doors for Fort Worth,” said Jack Chastain, longtime executive secretary-treasurer and magazine manager/editor for the Fort Worth-based Texas Hereford Association.

“Our goal is to make Fort Worth the center of the beef cattle universe,” Budler told 50-plus guests at a steak dinner hosted by the city of Fort Worth for a delegation the Budlers led of 30-plus visitors, virtually all of them Hereford breeders from 12 countries and the United States. Among their stops, delegation members attended the Stock Show with the Hereford Champions of the World recognition and toured at least five Texas ranches.

“It’s fantastic,” said Will Livesey, a delegation member from Leicestershire, in England’s Central Midlands, who is co-owner/manager of an exotic mushroom farm and Hereford breeding and commercial beef producing operation. “It’s bringing people together from around the world. … We can share what we know and learn what they know.”

Livesey said the British beef cattle trade is 10-15 years behind the world-leading U.S. trade in producing cattle that grow faster and produce more top quality beef volume (with bigger ribeyes) on less forage/feed. And he says he intends for his family’s 13-year-old registered breeding, commercial cow-calf and beef packing venture to meet and exceed the competitive quality standards.

Mexican Hereford Association President Eric Beckmann, a cattle rancher and Hereford breeder based in the Chihuahuan desert, credited Texas Department of Agriculture trade specialist Juan Hernandez for first inviting him to the Stock Show in 1996.

Now Chastain and the Budlers are helping to forge closer trading links with Mexican cattle raisers, Beckmann said. Hereford breeders are coming back with some of the best-available Hereford genetics, he said, generated from the intense 1980s-1990s competition from breeders of the larger continental European breeds – Charolais, Limousin, Simmental, Chianina, Maine-Anjou and others.

The North American Free Trade Agreement, though, has had the major linkage impact, enabling Mexican cattle raisers to sell commercial calves into the U.S. grazing/feeding ventures for the beef markets and enabling Mexican Hereford and other cattle breeders to buy and sell more registered frozen genetics as well as live registered cattle via U.S. clientele, Beckmann said.

“Promotion is essential to increasing cattle trade in both directions,” Beckmann said. He was one of the Budler delegation’s six Mexican Hereford breeders from different Mexican states, all aiming to expand their U.S. trade.

“We’re seeing what we’re doing well and what we’re doing wrong,” said delegate member, Hereford breeder and cow-calf rancher Enrique Estrada, who represents his longtime family ranching operation in the Chihuahuan mountains.

“We learn from our mistakes,” said Estrada, adding that “I have to” breed a Hereford World Champion contender some day.

Indeed, the Estrada family has long had Texas trading links; in fact, one of them was represented in this year’s Hereford Champions of the World winner’s circle.

The 2015 Hereford-Miss World title went to BR Anastasia 3023 ET, a U.S. Hereford female from a breeder based at Channing in the Texas Panhandle who is a longtime Stock Show competitor. That’s the Barber Ranch, along with Anastasia partners Deppe Bros., Cottonwood Springs Farm/Brushy Park Farms and Sullivan Farm of Dunlap, Iowa – the breeder/owners/exhibitors.

“Estrada’s father bought bulls from my dad, G.I. Edlin, in the 1950s and ’60s,” said Mary Edlin Barber. The Barber Ranch is now passing its 111th year of continuous operation by the Edlin-Barber families.

For the Champions of the World event at this year’s Stock Show, the animals were not present, but a life-size cutout photo of each stood in the arena with the winning breeders. Among other data records, judging relied on photos, videos, genetic pedigrees, records of fertility, beefy growth, other heritable performance-related traits and projected progeny traits.

Barber said the new Hereford Miss World cow, Anastasia, has a full brother that won the National Western Livestock Show’s Supreme Champion Hereford Bull title and the National Hereford Show Champion Bull title this year.

While too early to assess the Barber Ranch’s long-term marketing impact from the three show victories, she said, “there’s quite a bit of interest” in the cow’s embryos and especially in the bull’s semen. That includes website visits and phone calls.

The 2015 Hereford Champion of the World, the bull announced by Budler, is CHAC Mason 2214, with a North Texas breeder/owner/exhibitor, GKB Cattle Co. of Waxhachie, and partners Prairie Rose Cattle Co. and Eleanor James, both of Sherman, Illinois.

“Mr. Budler is to be commended,” Barber said. “He’s certainly stirring up a lot of interest. … I’m sure it’s going to keep on building.”

The Budlers created TheCattleMarket.net website to boost export/import sales.

“I knew the Hereford community was fragmented around the world,” Budler explained, and not just among Herefords producers. The Budlers’ www.Herefordbreeder.net site is a free “Yellow Pages” for Hereford breeders worldwide, and he said similar sites are going up from other breeds.

After rejecting the idea of a projected $100,000 postage-laden mail promotion to reach 20,000 Hereford breeders as “a nonstarter,” Budler said, he saw digital-facilitated opportunities for linking those breeding trade fragments, bridging geographic gaps, generating more international cooperation and sharing ideas, experience and breed performance successes.

Budler brought that sharing to the dinner reception in Fort Worth; visitors came from Argentina, Australia, Canada, England, Italy, Mexico, Northern Ireland, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, the United States, Uruguay and Wales.

After being introduced as “the mayor of Cowtown” at the H3 Ranch restaurant dinner, Mayor Betsy Price cited Fort Worth for remaining home to cattle and horse trade associations while also developing a highly diversified economy and “one of the nation’s best downtowns” and still featuring the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo, “one of the only true rodeos” in the nation. She noted the Dallas Fort Worth area is the fourth largest U.S. metropolitan area and “the 12th largest economy in the world.”

Steve Murrin, the unofficial “mayor of the North Side,” also welcomed the visitors. He reviewed Fort Worth’s historical Old West, ranching, Stockyards and meatpacking roots and congratulated the Budlers for choosing Fort Worth “to be the center of your enterprise.”

“This is still cattle country,” Murrin said, also citing the Stock Show, a string of other annual breed shows here and Fort Worth-based Superior Livestock Auction, which pioneered satellite-broadcast video marketing of cattle in 1987. Superior “videos [sale] cattle in the pasture,” he said. Superior has incorporated the Internet in its video and ranch-site auctions, and now touts that it markets more than 2 million head of cattle annually.

“We’re selling more cattle than ever in Fort Worth,” Murrin said.

And the Budlers are adding their venture’s buying/selling options – via their Internet website listing every large nation and many smaller countries for possible buying/selling options on “semen, embryos, bulls and females to & from anywhere in the world.” The offerings are just beginning to pop up there.

So there’s plenty of room for growth.

Budler said he’s convinced that the couple’s timing and choice of Fort Worth for their headquarters are prime tools for success, including:

— The practical genetics have been honed over decades for streamlined marketing and shipping of frozen semen and multiple embryos from performance-proven purebred and other bulls, heifers and cows without transporting the live animals.

— Genetic markers – DNA/gene mapping – has drastically cut the risks of producing and buying underperforming beef cattle genetics.

— Computer records on registered purebred cattle have never been more accurate.

— Internet and satellite-video broadcast auctions and other sales expand cattle markets worldwide and in any selected region or area.

— Internet and smartphone technologies bring instant contact, conferencing, cattle pedigree details and bull, heifer and cow performance record-checking to the cattle breeder’s office on horseback, in the pickup or at home.

— And Fort Worth not only embraces its “very important, necessary” historical cattle/beef industry roots and traditions, Budler said, but it also provides easy access to worldwide air travel, major medical districts for linking Stock Show visits with medical checkups, world-class museums and universities, and urban shopping options as good as any elsewhere.

Indeed, for a full-day seminar of teaching and learning, eight of the Budler-led delegation members from different countries became speakers/instructors/consultants for Texas Christian University’s Ranch Management’s students, Budler said.

Equally important is aiming for a significant share of the world market for exported beef and dairy cattle genetics.

“If you don’t get the dollars and cents, you don’t continue,” Budler said.

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