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Trade group from Bangladesh, Pakistan learn about benefits of soy flour during tour of Minnesota

Jason Mattson, center, describes the use of a crop sprayer to a delegation from Bangladesh and Pakistan during a visit to his family farm Tuesday, June 17, 2014, in Lake Park, Minn., to learn about soy production. FORUM NEWS SERVICE/Michael Vosburg

LAKE PARK, MINN. – Shafiqur Bhuiyan picked up an old corncob left on a soybean farm Tuesday, turning it in his hand and inspecting it.

“I think this is very interesting,” he said.

Bhuiyan, the president of a biscuit manufacturing association in Bangladesh, traveled with four other men to the U.S. this week to learn about soy flour. On Tuesday, he saw how soybeans are grown on American farms.

“This is a question of quality,” he said. “We know your product is quality.”

The five bakers and distributors from Bangladesh and Pakistan are the latest of many delegations to the U.S. orchestrated by the World Initiative for Soy in Human Health, or WISHH. The group promotes soy proteins around the world as an efficient addition to developing countries’ food systems.

The Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council is shuttling the men to stops in Callaway, Evansville, Mankato and Ellendale to see what life is like on a Minnesota farm.

People in many of the countries WISHH works in are protein-deficient, either due to a lack of agricultural infrastructure or religious beliefs that prohibit them from eating some types of meat, said Alan Poock, WISHH’s program manager for Asia.

“Soy’s a good way to get your protein while also respecting those customs or beliefs,” he said.

Adding soy flour to the baking process also increases the quality and yield of bread, Poock said.

The men in the delegation learned that firsthand in a baking class at the Northern Crops Institute in Fargo. Education is the trip’s main goal, along with networking – they meet suppliers who can export soy to them after they return home.

It’s also about dispelling any preconceived notions the visitors might have, Poock said. For example, many bakers in Bangladesh see soy as hard to work with.

Bhuiyan already uses soy in his biscuits, some of which his association donates to needy children. But it’s not the same quality as soy grown in the U.S. He said he was happy for the chance to meet potential American business partners.

On Tuesday, the delegation visited Ron and Melissa Mattson’s family farm outside of Lake Park. The five men gaped at the mammoth planting machines and snapped plenty of photos.

Ron Mattson said soybeans have been a substantial chunk of his crops for decades.

“They’re a nice crop, so I hope they keep selling,” he said. “Maybe I’ll sell ’em a few right now.”

While some men climbed into a massive corn container, Masum Reja of Bangladesh peppered Jason Mattson with questions: How much can it hold? How full is it? Where do you distribute the corn?

Jason Mattson, Ron and Melissa’s son, runs the farm’s seed-dealing business.

Jim Jirava, a farmer from Ogema who was along for the tour, said he’s glad the men saw how high-quality soybeans are grown.

“I think the most important thing is to show them the value we have,” he said.

Muhammad Usman already knows soy’s value. His Pakistan company Cakes and Bakes uses soy in its products.

While the soybean isn’t very popular in Pakistan, Usman said it’s catching on.

“The market is growing,” he said. “People are getting aware.”

Usman said he’s thrilled to soak up so much soy knowledge, even though Tuesday’s trip to the farm won’t have an immediate benefit for him.

“Farming is not our field yet,” he said. “But it’s a good exposure to see how farms work in the USA.”