As the trade skirmish continues, U.S. Soy and Chinese buyers maintain their long-term partnership

The morning of August 28 was exceptionally hot and humid, even by Kansas City standards. Still, 18 Chinese bulk commodity buyers were excited to board the bus heading out of the city to Kaiser Family Farms near Carrollton, Missouri.

The farm tour was part of the trade team’s visit to the U.S. centering on the 2018 U.S. Soy Global Trade Exchange and Midwest Specialty Grains Conference & Tradeshow. The delegation included many of China’s top soybean processors, as well as Chinese representatives of U.S. companies.

Despite ongoing trade tensions between the U.S. and China, the Chinese delegation met with U.S. farmers, industry representatives, and traders in Kansas City, a positive symbol of the 36 years of partnership between the U.S. Soy industry and China.

Prior to leaving the conference hotel in downtown Kansas City, the trade team listened to Mark Slupek, Deputy Administrator of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) as he spoke about U.S. farmers’ sustainable production practices.

Kyle Durham, vice chairman of the Missouri Soybean Association, welcomed international groups to Missouri, stressing that 95 percent of U.S. Soy is sustainably grown.

It’s 70 miles from Kansas City to Carrollton, enough time to get a good look at the rolling soybean fields and plenty of time to listen.

Missouri farmer Ronnie Russell, a director for the Missouri Soybean Association and the American Soybean Association (ASA), stood up at the front of the bus to speak to the visitors. “How long should I speak before I break for translation?” he asked the interpreter through a microphone.

Russell greeted the Chinese guests group and talked about the landscape the group was seeing through the bus windows.

“This part of Missouri,” he said, “is highly productive because the land lies right along the Missouri River. The stretch of land between Richmond to Carrollton is one of the highest corn and soybean production areas in the state.

“The land is flat around a floodplain, and it will flood every 10 to 15 years, but that is actually one reason why our soil is so productive right here. Having the river this close also gives us a good supply of water for irrigation when we don’t get enough rain.

“Our soybeans will be ready to harvest the first week of October,” he told the team.

Jim Sutter, U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) CEO, was also on the bus and spoke to the trade team.

“We don’t want to be in this situation with our customers,” he explained. “I encourage our respective governments to find solutions. I know they’re having high-level discussions on many different things, and we are all sorry about this situation. Unfortunately, soybeans are collateral damage in this trade dispute.”

“Over the 36 years since U.S. Soy first began working in China, China has developed great industries in livestock and crushing,” he said. “We’ve also developed great relationships and we’re anxious to get back to business with a strong industry.”

“I want to personally thank you for coming, especially during this time. We value our relationships with the people of China,” he concluded.

The bus was nearly to its destination.

Looking out the window at the nearby town of Norborne, Russell mentioned that Norborne is known as the soybean capital of the world. “You’ve just missed the annual soybean festival,” he teased the visitors.

“When you purchase U.S. Soy,” he added, “you help sustain and support these small towns.”

The group got off the bus at the Kaiser farm, where they were greeted by United Soybean Board (USB) director Meagan Kaiser, her husband Marc, and his parents Glenn and Nancy.

At the Carrollton, Missouri farm of USB director Meagan Kasier, members of the China Bulk team got a better look at the combine.

The Kaiser farm, founded in 1891, like many U.S. Soy farms, is multi-generational. Marc is the 5thgeneration to work the land, and Meagan and Marc’s three-year-old son Mac, zooming around visitors on his John Deere pedal tractor, represents the 6thgeneration.

Meagan Kaiser talked to the Chinese trade team about their farm, highlighting specific sustainability practices such as tiling, crop rotation, and soil testing. The visitors inspected the Kaisers’ video drone and climbed aboard their combine.

“We appreciate the opportunity to connect with our global customers on a personal level at our farm,” said Meagan Kaiser. “They get to see that we are a multigenerational family farm and it helps them to see us as people rather than a distant country. “We learn what is important to them, and they are often surprised in the care we take of our land, water and crop.”

Marc Kaiser led part of the group over to his storage bins. Kaiser Family Farms have about 600,000 bushels of total storage, and the BNSF railroad line runs just beyond the bins. Soybeans and grain are loaded at local elevators like the one in Norborne and then are loaded onto rail cars. In this part of the Midwest, most of the soybeans are headed to Mexico.

Marc Kaiser shows the visitors how the farm’s storage system works.

Next up were the soybean fields themselves.

Meagan Kaiser pulled up a soybean plant to show her guests how the growing season was coming along.

Meagan Kaiser pulls up a soybean plant to show the Chinese team.

“Our crop looks great,” she said. “It was a little dry for a bit, but we got some good rain and we’re ready to harvest another bumper crop of high quality beans.”

The Chinese delegation at the Kaiser soybean field.

The group was ready for a break and boarded the bus. In Russell’s hometown of Richmond, they enjoyed a pizza lunch.

Todd Gibson, a soybean grower from Norborne, met the group at the restaurant. Gibson, who serves as a director for USSEC and the United Soybean Board (USB), was on his way to Kansas City for the GTE.

“I’m glad I could meet up with everyone on this tour,” he said. “Talking with trade teams and hosting them on our farms helps us all form deeper relationships, both farmers and buyers. We want to show them ‘This is where your soybeans are grown and we are the people who grow them.’”

Russell pointed out a photo of his dad posing with a few other farmers on the restaurant wall.

“Farmers rely on our own hard work,” he said.  “We are guided by the three F’s:  Faith, Family, and Farming.”

After lunch, it was back to Kansas City for a tour of the Federal Grain Inspection Services. FGIS is a part of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA), under USDA Agricultural Marketing Service (AMS), which works to ensure a productive and competitive global marketplace for U.S. agricultural products. FGISfacilitates the marketing of U.S. grain and related agricultural products by establishing standards for quality assessments, regulating handling practices, and managing a network of federal, state and private laboratories that provide impartial, user fee funded official inspection and weighing services.

At FGIS, the group toured several different laboratories and spoke with numerous representatives, giving them a better idea of the procedures that FGIS follows to ensure the quality of U.S. Soy.

At FGIS, team members learned more about how U.S. soybeans and grain are inspected.

“It was a great opportunity to meet and get to know the delegation of bulk soybean buyers from China who were attending the Global Trade Exchange. This group of buyers usually purchases up to 65,000 metric tons or 2.4 million bushels at a time,” said Russell.

The trade team poses at the U.S. Soy booth at the 2018 U.S. Soy Global Trade Exchange and Midwest Specialty Grains Conference & Tradeshow.

“They expressed to me that they want to buy U.S. soybeans. We obviously want to sell them our soybeans. I hope the barriers that hinder our trade with China will find a resolution soon.

U.S. soybean farmers and their communities depend on international trade,” he concluded.