While the trade disagreement between the U.S. and China has continued to make headlines for more than a year, the strong relationships our two countries have built on behalf of soybeans over the past 37 years are less often mentioned. Last month, I traveled to Wuhan, China on behalf of the U.S. soy industry, where I attended the 2019 China Global Cereals & Oils Industry Summit and visited our customers from July 7 to 12.

The U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC), the international marketing arm of U.S. Soy, sponsored the event, which was organized by USSEC’s long-term partner, the China Chamber of Commerce for Import and Export of Foodstuffs, Native Produce and Animal By-products (CFNA), and was co-organized by USSEC. About 200 industry representatives from more than 10 countries and regions, including China, the United States, Canada, Australia, Malaysia, Indonesia, Germany, and Russia attended the summit, where officials from government departments and experts from industry organizations and research institutes interpreted the relevant policies of the bulk grain and oil industry and provided comprehensive and multi-perspective market analysis.

Group photo from the conference

I spoke to these attendees on July 10, providing a farmer’s perspective on U.S. soy production. I discussed the advantages of U.S. soybeans and the achievements of the U.S. soy industry in terms of innovation, consistent supply, and sustainable farming practices. I talked about how technology helps U.S. farmers stay on the cutting edge of innovation and how the production and movement of U.S. Soy allows us to get a consistent and reliable supply to our customers. I spent a lot of time talking about the sustainable farming practices that I employ on my own place, including conservation/light tillage; narrow (20 inch) rows; cover crops; and precision farming, including soil sampling, data collection, near infrared (NIR) satellite imagery, nitrogen use reports, and biotechnology.

I also served on a panel discussion, where I was able to interact with the audience about soybean planting, production costs, farmers’ marketing strategy, and efforts made by the U.S. soy industry to mitigate the impact of trade tension with China. I fielded a lot of questions about the trade situation between the U.S. and China, and I reiterated that the relationships we’ve built over the years haven’t changed. Even when our governments disagree, we are still friends.

USSEC and ASA director Kevin Scott speaks at the China Cereal Grains conference in Wuhan, China in July 2019.

I felt that the sustainability discussions went over especially well. The palm industry was also represented at this conference, and they got a lot of questions about how they are cutting down trees. They said even though are clearing forests, they are planting new trees. The U.S. soybean industry does not cut down trees, and so our message was extremely positive and well received.

USSEC Regional Director – Greater China Xiaoping Zhang and Scott look over information during the summit.

As a U.S. soy farmer, I’m not used to having to play up our strengths in sustainability, we’ve always just done them. I am a fourth generation farmer and the fifth generation is already active on our farm. On our place, everything starts with what I call the factory in our soil.

I also met with the CFNA President. We exchanged views on the current trade tension and explored some possibilities to minimize the losses thus far that have been caused to both industries. We talked about U.S. soybean production and distribution in some depth and discussed the importance of an even stronger partnership in the future.

After the summit, I took part in a couple of customer visits, along with our boots on the ground team in China. Our customers are still expressing interest in U.S. soy oil and are somewhat concerned that they are running low, as they prefer U.S. soy oil. Many domestic oil users prefer U.S. origin for its quality and clarity, especially for cooking. I mentioned that we had plenty of beans and they are welcome to come and get them!

Right now, between the tariffs and African Swine Fever (ASF), we are facing a perfect storm. ASF has diminished China’s demand for animal feed.

With that said, I want to tell you about one of the questions that I received from the audience during the panel session. I was asked why Americans want to stifle growth in the trade market. It’s a common belief in China that Americans want to keep the Chinese gross domestic product (GDP) down. I stressed that this is certainly not the case – why would we want them to slow down? I think I’m voicing a popular opinion amongst our farmers when I say that’s just not a good business plan for us. We want our customers to succeed. When our friends succeed, we succeed, too.