PARRISH -- Renee Strickland opened the door to U.S. cattle exports to Pakistan when she chartered a Boeing 747 and flew with 302 dairy cattle to Sialkot, Pakistan, on March 1.
The long flight was the easy part. It came after five years of frustration, planning, perseverance and negotiation.
"This was a real nail biter. We had three weeks to put this shipment together, and I got my passport at midnight, three hours before the departure to Pakistan," she said.
"It was a pressure-cooker experience," Strickland said, recalling how she brokered the sale and gathered cattle from Okeechobee dairies, north Florida and Kansas.
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She could only wrangle those cattle after getting clearance from the U.S. and Pakistani governments, securing a health protocol, overcoming the language barrier and closing the deal with tough negotiators in Pakistan.
"A lot of times, I just kind of thought, my gosh, I am knock
ing my head against a brick wall," Strickland said.
Even so, Strickland said a lot of people "jumped through hoops to make this happen," citing her partners in Pakistan and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
"I have a well-respected partner in Pakistan whose family has been in agriculture for 500 years. He is a gentleman, a good person and well respected," she said.
Dix Harrell of the USDA said the beef export market to Pakistan and many other countries closed after the outbreak of bovine spongiform encephalopathy, more commonly known as mad cow disease, in the United States.
Mad cow disease can have an incubation period as long as eight years.
"I know that in the last 10 years, the market wasn't really open to us," Harrell said. "After we had our first case, a lot of countries banned live cattle."
Strickland always flies with the cattle she brokers in sales to ensure no animal is hurt or stressed.
"The cattle traveled great and the unloading went smoothly," she said.
She has previously brokered and delivered cattle to Cuba, Oman, Trinidad and Tobago, Nicaragua, Honduras, Costa Rica, Panama, Guyana and Ecuador.
Pakistan is an attractive market because, with 182.1 million people, it has one of the world's largest populations. In addition, Pakistan is one of the world's largest dairy producers, ranking fifth globally in milk production.
As recently as 1986, buffalo produced most of the milk in Pakistan. Pakistani dairies, however, have been improving their cattle herds and dairy cows are now the dominant producers.
"We are known to have some of the best milking cattle in the world," Strickland said of the attractiveness of U.S. stock.
The Pakistani deal was valued at about $700,000.
"They are getting one heck of a deal," Strickland said, noting she had to sharpen her pencil in dealing with Pakistani buyers. "We are trying to open up this market. It's the most challenging export I have ever had in so many ways."
Renee Strickland, and her husband, Jim Strickland, are preparing a second airborne delivery of cattle to Pakistan for the first week of April. Jim Strickland will be the one handling escort duties next time.
While in Pakistan, Renee Strickland, an avid polo player, got to visit the Lahore Polo Club.
"I will be sending some polo ponies on my next shipment. Polo is a huge sport in that country," she said.
James A. Jones Jr., East Manatee reporter, can be contacted at 941-745-7053 or on Twitter @jajones1.