Educator helps promote Minnesota soybeans in China
MORRIS – The next time you drive past a soybean field, take a guess at where those beans will end up.
Some will go to Mexico, others across the Atlantic to members of the European Union and the Pacific to countries like Japan, Indonesia and Taiwan. But the single largest customer for soybeans is China, purchasing about 25 percent of the soybeans grown in the United States.
Deron Erickson, a farm business management educator with Ridgewater College, traveled to China in March to learn about Chinese agriculture and help promote the benefits of Minnesota-grown soybeans for Chinese wholesalers.
As part of the “See For Yourself” tour organized by the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council, Erickson toured feed mills, soy food processing plants, food markets and aquaculture farms with 27 other participants during the 10-day trip.
The trip was funded using soybean checkoff dollars, a voluntary contribution from commodity growers to fund research and promotion for their products. This is the eighth year the See For Yourself tour has visited China to help foster relationships with international customers.
The Chinese businesses the group met were “very receptive” and “very interested in U.S. agriculture,” said Erickson. “Soybeans are such a huge market in China that they have to be aware of U.S. soybean production, and that is also the reason farmers in the U.S. should understand the growth and need for soybeans in China.”
Most of the information Chinese producers get is from the USDA, so they appreciate the chance to speak with individual farmers to learn what is actually going on in the United States, said Erickson.
China is in a time of transition as the population shifts to live in urban areas. In 2000, about 36 percent of the country's population lived in urban areas. Now, that number has hit just over 51 percent with a goal of eventually reaching 60 percent, Erickson said.
“As they get more urbanized, there's more demand for protein,” said Erickson. “Their protein needs come from meat or soybeans, so consequently they're moving from a 1940s style of livestock agriculture to industrialized agriculture as fast as they can.”
Although soybeans are native to China – they originate at approximately the same latitude as Fargo, N.D. – Chinese farmers can't produce enough soybeans to meet the country's demand because of limits on both land and water, said Erickson.
Chinese farmers can produce enough soybeans for human consumption, but any soybeans used for livestock feed have to be imported.
“The demand for the product that we're producing is only going to increase worldwide, specifically from China because they have to feed all those people,” said Erickson.
One focus of the trip was to promote the benefits of importing soybeans from the Pacific Northwest area, which includes Minnesota, because they are higher in the essential amino acids that producers need to grow livestock.
“We wanted them to understand that even though our beans are lower in protein, it's the amino acid content that they're actually after... that's the advantage that we have,” said Erickson.
One challenge for soybean promotion in China is that the market is very different from neighboring countries like Japan.
In Japan, imported soybeans can be sold in a retail setting. But China doesn't allow GMO crops, other than cotton, so imported soybeans can only be used as feed or be crushed for oil, Erickson said.
“Because they're not using the product directly, it has to be [promoted] on the wholesale level,” said Erickson. “Because they're using it to grow hogs, poultry and fish, it's a different market.”