Minnesota Farmer Hosts International Customers

Joel Schreurs has been an active member of the Minnesota Soybean Association and the American Soybean Association (ASA) for more than eight years. When was asked by the organizations to pick a committee that interested him, he chose international marketing because he felt it aligned well with his background in sales, despite having never been out of the country. That choice sparked a passion for international marketing and travel. Today, he enjoys hosting international customers on his Minnesota farm, as well as visiting with end users around the globe. The U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) spoke with him as he attended a U.S. Soybean Oil Latin America Summit in Merida, Mexico, last fall.

Q:        What does it take to connect those who grow soybeans with those who purchase soybeans? Why is it important to do so?

A:         In a word: relationships. Typically, we farmers sell a product, but we don’t necessarily think about our end users. We may think about our neighbors down the road using the product, but more than 60 percent of soybeans are exported. So we need to build those relationships internationally – they are very important.

Q:        Given the distances between them, how can farmers help demonstrate the advantages of U.S. Soy to international end-users?       

A:         Farmers can help by joining grower organizations that advocate for them. The United Soybean Board (USB) and ASA work together for a lot of different programs and have opportunities to get involved at the state and national levels.

My wife and I host two or three international trade teams per year. We’ve been doing that for eight years. It’s an eye-opening experience. What you might think about a certain culture may not be true. I’ve developed friendships over the years; there are lots of good people in the world. If we can sell soybeans by having those relationships, it makes it that much better. We definitely need to visit them as much as they visit us.

Q:        When international buyers visit your farm, what surprises them about your crops or operation?

A:         The biggest surprise is my large lawn, which they perceive as wasted space. You see very little lawn in places like China, where every spot of ground is used for growing fruit or vegetables. They also ask about our crop yields and costs; they’re looking for an edge in the market, which I guess is human nature.

Q:        What do you think compels these end users to travel across the world to visit U.S. soybean farms?

A:         It’s no different than you buying a piece of jewelry or an item of clothing. You could buy online, but you may want to go to the store and see it in person and maybe ask the salesperson some questions before you decide to buy. That’s no different than companies buying food or a product – they want to know where that product is produced. This is why it’s very important to have those relationships and make sure customers feel comfortable buying our soybeans, and keeping ours a preferential product, not a product of last resort.

Q:        Have you received any other questions that surprised you?

A:         One crusher from Barbados had some questions about green beans getting into the system. He was very concerned about it because it messes with their production. I know that it happens occasionally with an early frost, but didn’t know it was that significant for crushers.

Q:        What do you want all end users to know about U.S. soybean farmers?

A:         I want them to know about our quality. Quality is our number one goal. We’ll do all we can to produce a great product that’s sustainable for you and your companies

Joel Schreurs (second from left) hosted 27 Chinese swine trade team members on his farm in Lincoln County, Minnesota in June 2016. (Photo courtesy of Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council)