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Chinese soybean buyers learn about Indiana farm
Indiana Correspondent

WINAMAC, Ind. – Buyers representing 11 Chinese companies that purchase $2 billion worth of soybeans annually arrived in the Midwest Sept. 20 to begin a whirlwind tour of farms in Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota, North and South Dakota before returning home on Sept. 29.

Phillip Laney, Country Director for the American Soybean Assoc. (ASA) in China for the past 11 1/2 years, and Deputy Director Xiao Ping Zhang serve as translators and travel with the delegation while it gains a greater understanding of U.S. agricultural communities and their capabilities.

The delegation kicked off its American tour Thursday at the home of Scott and Karen Fritz near Winamac where area farmers and representatives of the ASA, the Indiana Soybean Board (ISB), the U.S. Soybean Export Council and a number of agri-business people joined the group for a breakfast of scrambled eggs, bacon, rice, wontons, juice, fruit and cookies.

Scott Fritz, who hosted the 1995 Farm Management Tour and presently serves as an ISB member, invited the group to his machine shed where he had posted a chart showing how his 2,100-acre farm would measure up in China - 850 hectares, 12,750 MU (a Chinese unit of area).

Asked about the size of Chinese farms, a member of the delegation said it depended on the size of the family. “One person can have one MU,” he said.

Considering that 2.47 acres are the equivalent of 15 MU, each plot of land is quite small in a country only slightly smaller than the United States but with a population of more than 1.3 billion. According to the CIA Fact Book, the United States has a population of nearly 298.5 million and is 18.01 percent arable as compared with China where 14.86 percent of the land is arable.

As a result, China imported 28 million tons of soybeans last year, 40 percent of which came from the United States with the balance coming from Brazil and Argentina.

Fritz used a chart to explain how supply and demand affect basis prices and fielded questions about GMO (genetically modified organisms). He plants half of his operation, Fritz Black Sand Farms, Inc., to soybeans with corn, seed corn and popcorn accounting for the balance. Of his 2,100 acres, he irrigated only 370 acres.

“Everything is no-till, and we follow a rotation plan,” he said. “We plant beans in the residue of corn and corn in the residue of beans.”

Matt Parmer, a Cargill representative, joined the discussion by saying area farmers had benefited from this year’s cold, wet spring that delayed planting and caused beans to develop later than normal.

“All that rain helped increase the yield potential,” he said. “At the same time, we’re 10 days behind our usual harvest because the beans stayed alive longer.”

Moving on to a field of soybeans, Parmer counted 80 beans per stalk and calculated that the field would yield about 48 bushels per acre.

“This is good for this field,” he told members of the delegation, many of whom were holding soybean plants.

Asked if any of the Chinese imports would go into the manufacture of soy sauce, Laney replied, “Only native beans are used for that. They don’t want to use any GMO beans.”

Although she did not address the group, Bridget Owen, marketing manager for the U.S. Soybean Export Council, watched and listened with interest. She travels to China three or four times a year, working primarily with ocean cage aquaculture technology to protect off-shore marine fish from the ravages of storm-driven winds.

Soybean meal, because of its high protein level and suitable amino acid complex, is a key ingredient for aquaculture feeds - and considerably less expensive than traditional marine animal feeds. Currently, China produces more than 70 percent of the world’s aquaculture.

A visit to the buildings and bins where the Fritzes dry soybeans concluded the visit and prompted more questions about GMO and no-till planting, two terms the group seemed especially concerned about.

The questions delayed their departure by 45 minutes and probably made them late for their next stop at the Mike Beard Farm near Frankfort. Later the same day, they would visit the Phil Carter Farm at Lewis.

This farm news was published in the Sept. 27, 2006 issue of Farm World, serving Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, Kentucky, Michigan and Tennessee.