Tide of US Imports Batter Korean Farmers

SOUTH KOREA - Recent reports suggest that Korean cattle producers are already feeling the knock-on effects of US beef imports on the market. In the past two weeks, Korean beef prices have tumbled to their lowest level for two years and the soaring cost of feed will only exasperate the problem.
calendar icon 1 May 2008
clock icon 2 minute read

For small-scale farmers like Kim Jeong-ryang, the only way to cope is to cut costs.

Kim, 58, who raises 40 cows in Naju, South Jeolla Province, recently scaled down each cow's intake of factory-manufactured feed from 5 kg to 2 kg per day. To make up for the shortage, he has started collecting grass by hand, reports Yonhap News.

"I always keep my eyes on my cows, whether they have diarrhea, whether they are digesting well," Kim said over the telephone.

Due to soaring grain prices around the world, a pack of cattle feed -- a mixture of grains and minerals that used to cost 6,500 won (US$6.5) -- has jumped to 10,000 won, while a cow's wholesale price has fallen by nearly 20 percent in retail markets.

"On this kind of diet, I'm worried if my cows can get pregnant. It's just too difficult to go on," he said.

Kim is one of 184,000 Korean cattle farmers striving to cope with the government's recent decision to resume U.S. beef imports. All bone-in beef, as well as intestines and tails from cattle under 30 months old, will be brought to South Korea for the first time since their import was banned in 2003, according to the Ministry for Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries. For the pro-business Lee Myung-bak administration, resuming U.S. beef imports was a key condition for gaining U.S. ratification of a bilateral free trade agreement, which was signed last year, but has yet to be approved by the legislature of either country.

Some farmers scaled down their feed costs, while others turned to branding strategies, producing "garlic beef" or "organic beef." Nonetheless, experts agree that prices will keep falling and some farmers will have to quit. Open market access to U.S. beef will cause cattle prices to plummet by 14 percent from 2007, according to the Korea Rural Economic Institute, a state-run agricultural think tank.

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