The world’s largest cattle feedlot is expanding SA beef exports beyond the Middle East to take advantage of surging demand in China and other Asian markets. Karan Beef’s feedlot in Heidelberg is emblematic of a push by agriculture to boost exports of more niche products ranging from grapefruit and avocados to macadamia nuts. Increasingly, the emphasis is on high-value products rather than mass output of less lucrative crops like corn. With 160,000 cattle on the property, which converted from dairy to beef production in about 1980, and half a million of the animals sent to slaughter every year, the 2,500ha operation is the biggest feedlot on a single site globally, according to director Matthew Karan.

The cattle are acquired from farmers around the country at about eight months’ old. They more than double in weight to about 420kg within four months with feed including molasses and gluten mixed in a production line-like factory that sees specially equipped trucks constantly topp...

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