By TIM ALEXANDER
MAHOMET, Ill. — In late September, Gov. JB Pritzker announced that Taiwan made a $2.2 billion commitment to purchase Illinois corn and soybeans over the next two years.
The agreement calls for Taiwanese associations to purchase $1.1 billion of Illinois crops in both 2020 and 2021, including 5 million metric tons – or 197 million bushels – of corn and 96 million-97 million bushels of soybeans.
“Illinois corn and soybean producers have cultivated a world-class industry with customers in all parts of the world,” said Pritzker, who presided over a signing ceremony closing the deal at the Thompson Building in Chicago. “When Illinois’ agricultural economy thrives, so do working families all across the state.”
On hand for the Sept. 24 signing was Doug Schroeder, a soybean producer in McLean, Piatt, and Champaign counties and Illinois Soybean Assoc. (ISA) chair who has hosted dozens of international trade teams at his multigenerational farm over the past several years.
He was celebrating the Taiwan Vegetable Oil Manufacturers Assoc. and ISA’s letter of intent marking Taiwan’s intention to buy the 2.6 million-2.9 million metric tons of soybeans. But he was also looking forward to hosting yet another trade team, this one from the European Union, at his farm on behalf of the state’s 43,000 soybean growers.
David Headley, who helps organize tours for the ISA, regularly schedules Schroeder’s farm as one of the stops because of the high post-tour ratings his Champaign area farm receives from the groups. Schroeder, 58, provided a glimpse at what goes into successfully hosting an on-farm foreign buyers’ group.
“A lot of times these teams will come to Chicago, do the CBOT (Board of Trade), go to the University of Illinois, and then go to the (ISA) office in Bloomington. When they drive from Champaign to Bloomington, our farm is right in the middle. I enjoy doing it and it is always a fun thing for all of us,” he said.
“Usually we will first feed them and hydrate them and give them a feel for what it is like to live here in farm country. We will do burgers and (bratwurst), we’ve done late-afternoon happy hours ... whatever we like to do here in America, because that’s what they like.
“Then I sit them down and give them the 30,000-foot overview of my operation, and try to explain why (Illinois) is such a great place to buy soybeans from,” Schroeder added.
Among the virtues of purchasing Illinois soybeans, Schroeder said, are the consistency and quality of supply, multiple modes for export transportation, and technological advantages.
“I actually talk about the four glacial periods that have come through the state of Illinois. Where we are in central Illinois we have the newest soil, from the Wisconsin glacier, and we have a long growing season. In fact, we have got the best soil and growing conditions. ADM and Tate and Lyle didn’t put major facilities here by chance – this is the most reliable location to get soybeans from.
“We also talk about being a reliable supplier. My 90-plus-year-old parents, kids, and grandkids are often here, so they can see what a multigenerational American farm looks like. We are not a big corporation pushing buttons; we are a family farm that cares about doing things right and wants to leave it better for the next generation,” he said.
“And then we move on to transportation, which really is one of the shining stars in this country. We’ve got the Mississippi, the Illinois, and the Ohio (rivers). We’ve got like eight Class I railroads, and the most rail hubs as anyone in the nation. And we’ve got like 7,000 miles of interstate highway in this state. So we show them that not only are we reliable producer, but we’ve also got the best transportation infrastructure.”
When international purchasers inquire about a farm’s sustainability, Schroeder is ready with facts pertaining to his land’s history that can usually set potential buyers’ minds at ease. He can trace his production back several decades to illustrate how soybean yield has doubled on his farm during his lifetime.
“I think that hits home with some people, the job that we are doing here,” he said.
He also likes to show off a little modern technology whenever foreign buyers come to call. “We show them some machinery, we talk about variable rate technology (VRT) that ties in with sustainability, and we talk about our use of a lot of tile, which differentiates us from a lot of farms.”
In return, Schroeder regularly hears from international buyers about the outstanding reliability of Illinois-sourced soybeans compared with other growers in the world. They praise Illinois soybeans’ rate of adjustable amino acids, which contributes to putting weight on livestock feeding on soybean meal.
Recently, he hosted that traveling team of buyers from the EU. “We had such a good time,” he said, while worrying that not much might materialize out of the meeting. “Apparently the (Trump) administration wants to take on the EU now, so we don’t know what’s going to happen if it goes down that path. Hopefully it is just saber-rattling, but it is a concern of mine.
“The EU picked up a lot of what China left behind, and if we have an issue with the Chinese and the EU, then we are going to be seen as an unreliable supplier. The big picture is that every day that this (the trade conflict) goes on, there is another plow being fired up and more land going into production to compete with us, forever. This short-term damage is going to have a very long tail on it.”
A LARGE GROUP of potential customers for Illinois farm products from the European Union on the farm of Doug Schroeder during a recent grain tour he hosted. Schroeder has hosted several international buyers' tour groups.
(Courtesy of Doug Schroeder)