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Area couple travels to China to see how soybean check-off dollars being used

Bryan and Jennifer Klabunde joined a group of other Minnesota farmers for a trip to 10-day trade mission to China as a part of the ‘See for Yourself’ project. Submitted Photo

Bryan and Jennifer Klabunde of the Becker-Mahnomen Soybean Growers Association attended a 10-day trade mission to China in late March, along with 27 other Minnesota farmers, spouses and soybean officials as part of the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council’s International Marketing “See for Yourself” project. 

“See for Yourself” is an opportunity for individual farmers to see firsthand how our soybean check-off dollars are being invested and to share this information with others.

Upon arrival in Beijing, we were given a brief orientation of the Chinese market and were greeted by Paul Burke, Regional Director with the US Soybean Export Council.  Burke provided us with an overview of soybean consumption trends in China — from crushing to food use to domestic production. 

We then were able to tour a modern 3,800-head Chinese dairy, which is a re-emerging market in China due to previous issues with dairy quality.  It was interesting to note that all of the alfalfa used at the dairy was imported from California. 

Before leaving Beijing and heading east to the coastal city of Yantai, we were able to visit the Great Wall and also enjoyed a delicious Peking Duck dinner, which Beijing is well-known for.

In keeping with our grueling travel schedule, once in Yantai, we met with Dr. Richard Hahn to tour a food-grade soy protein plant. 

China is not using any imported soybeans for human consumption and is currently able to produce enough soybeans to supply for their human consumption needs, but the current trend shows that by 2016, China will no longer be able to fulfill the countries demands. 

Bruce Schmoll, MN Soybean Growers President, was quick to point out that Minnesota farmers would be willing to provide China food-grade soybeans when that happened. 

That afternoon, our group arrived at a state-of-the-art poultry production facility that produces 20 million broilers annually.  As part of total production, even the poultry litter is conveyed over to a fermentation plant for use in the production of the facilities energy.

Later that evening, we arrived at the Yantai crushing plant and port, which is a hub port in China handling 240 million metric tons per year. The crushing plant has a capacity of 2,000 metric tons per day, all of which is placed in 75 Kg. bags. 

In fact, all Chinese soybean meal is bagged and delivered by truck. Leaders of the crushing facility were very interested in our Minnesota soybean production plans for 2013 and were interested to hear what we thought of the current market projections.

On Sunday, before departing for the southern coastal city of Shenzhen, we visited a livestock and poultry breeding company. We then took the 3½ hour flight to the city of Shenzhen, arriving to some much anticipated warmer weather.

During our stay in Shenzhen, our activities were organized by the US Meat Export Federation, led by Joel Haggard and Ming Liang. During our meeting with the Export Federation, we learned that 68 percent of net soybean income is a direct result of our current exporting efforts.

Due to China’s increasing protein demand, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) is working hard to increase their presence in China by providing one KFC restaurant for every 30,000 consumers. In the U.S., KFC is currently providing one restaurant for every 3,000 consumers. 

KFC recognizes the huge growth potential in China, much like our soybean producers. Our first tour of the day was of the largest frozen market in the Shenzhen area. This 7-day market currently does about $300,000 of cash-only business each day. 

Common Chinese delicacies of chicken feet (chicken paws), pork belly, ears, feet and snout are among the items most purchased. We then departed the market and headed to Wal-Mart, where we were surprised to see many similarities in the stores layout and product selection. Some of the major differences in products were live fish and bulk soybeans.

We then took a short walk over to the wet market where you were able to purchase anything from a live chicken, pork, beef, fish or fresh fruits and vegetables.

The following day the group set out to tour aqua feed mills and an aquaculture farm in Pearl River Delta. Along the way we got a glimpse of traditional Chinese agriculture, where we saw corn, sugarcane and winter wheat raised on 1/4 to 1 acre family farms. 

The $500 million dollar aquaculture business produces feed, canola oil, soybean oil and fish. During meetings with the feed production leaders, we were pleased to learn that they are currently testing for essential amino acids in their feed. 

This is not currently a common practice in China, but has been a focus of the MN Soybean Growers Association in an attempt to add value to northern grown soybeans. After touring the facilities they treated us to a traditional Chinese business lunch. 

Later that afternoon, we took our last tour of the trip to the Shekou port, which is the 4th largest port in the world and is currently developing plans to expand to meet China’s growing import demands. The port facility is currently able to unload a large ship of soybeans in 3½ hours. Due to inclement weather, we were unable to see the unloading operation first-hand.

We would like to thank the MN Research and Promotional council and the “See for Yourself” program for allowing us this educational opportunity. We would also like to thank the Becker-Mahnomen Soybean Association, the US Soybean Export Council, the US Meat Export Federation, Trump Tours and many other people that work hard ensuring that our soybean check-off dollars are being spent efficiently.

In today’s competitive agricultural export market we feel that the check-off program provides us with a competitive advantage coupled with China’s insatiable demand for soybeans, making the future for Minnesota soybean growers profitable.

Article written by Jennifer Klabunde, Special to the Tribune