* Tyson shifts chicken away from Russia
* Seeks to improve debt rating
* Share buyback lowest priority (Corrects export percent to Russia in first paragraph)
CHICAGO, March 1 (Reuters) - Tyson Foods Inc TSN.N, the biggest U.S. meat producer, said on Monday it had reduced the amount of chicken it exports to Russia to about 10 percent of its total chicken exports from 26 percent four years ago as the company works to find other markets for the product.
Tyson Chief Financial Officer Dennis Leatherby, in a webcast presentation at a J.P. Morgan investment conference in Miami, said the company had found other export markets as well as domestic uses for the meat.
Russia, once the largest export market for U.S. chicken, has reduced imports in order to build its own industry.
It also banned U.S. chicken in January because of a chlorine wash used in the United States to kill bacteria, but negotiators are working to reopen that market.
“It is more costly to use the other methods, but we are certainly willing to do that, if the Russians are,” Leatherby said of the chlorine wash.
During a question and answer session, Leatherby said Tyson was focused on reinvesting in the business and improving its debt rating to investment grade rather than buy back shares.
“Share buybacks would be our lowest priority by far,” he said in response to a question. Acquisitions would be considered, “but they would pretty much have to fall in our lap at pretty reasonable prices,” he said.
Tyson is focusing on integrating recent acquisitions in China and Brazil in 2010, he added.
Leatherby said Tyson's joint-venture with Syntroleum Corp SYNM.O should bring its renewable diesel plant on line this summer.
Reporting by Bob Burgdorfer; Editing by Ted Kerr
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