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Published April 05, 2012, 08:28 AM

Future bright for U.S. farmers

When a leader of a foreign nation pays a visit to the United States, it’s usually limited to a stop in Washington, D.C. That makes Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s mid-February visit to Iowa all the more significant.

By: By Chad Blindauer, president, South Dakota Corn Utilization Council

When a leader of a foreign nation pays a visit to the United States, it’s usually limited to a stop in Washington, D.C. That makes Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping’s mid-February visit to Iowa all the more significant.

I was privileged to be among those who attended the event. A large Chinese delegation accompanied Jinping, and many representatives of our nation’s various ag groups were on hand. There was a huge amount of press, the majority being Chinese press.

The visit focused on three areas of emphasis: food security, sustainability and food safety. The focus was similar on all three topics, but the overarching message that came out of it is that China would really like to raise all of the corn that it needs.

Chinese leaders realize that’s a tall order. They’re probably going to have to keep importing some corn, but they’re doing all they can to keep imports to a minimum. They know they’re going to have to import soybeans — 60 percent of the world’s soybeans go to China. They’re resigned to that. But they’re going to do their darnedest to raise their own corn.

China’s yields are quite a bit lower than ours. They don’t currently plant biotech corn. If they did, they could drastically increase their yields, which wouldn’t necessarily be a good thing for us as it would decrease the sales of U.S. corn to China. They had a good crop last year, which decreased their need to import corn. But given the current situation and likely future needs, hopefully China will become a larger and more consistent purchaser of U.S. corn.

What the Chinese leaders did talk about is not just seed technology, but technology in general. They said they are spending more money on their ag research, trying to increase production quite a bit. There are 30 or so ag universities in China and they’re ramping up research. Pioneer Hi-Bred announced that it will build a seed technology hub in Beijing this year.

The average Chinese farm is an acre and a half and is hand harvested. They said they don’t plant their corn thick enough. Why not plant it a little thicker? The reason they give is that it’s easier to walk through the field when hand harvesting it.

With the population growth, most people believe China will have to import more corn. That’s probably true, but they’ll do whatever they can to keep from importing corn.

A lot of effort is being put into irrigation technology. A big portion of their farm ground is similar to the Western Corn Belt. But China has 40 percent of the water resources that we have, so they’re behind the eight-ball. They say the way we irrigate corn is way too inefficient, that we’re wasting too much water. They could never do that because they don’t have as much water to use for irrigation.

Once they figure out what they need to do, they’re going to produce more.

Meanwhile, American farmers continue to increase production to meet growing needs. Biotechnology has played a huge role in increased yields here. Simply stated, genetically modified corn allows us to keep up with demand.

Will we get to a point where we overproduce? Sure we will. Are we going to have $2 corn again? I don’t think so.

In the United States, we will continue to increase production. This year, we’ll plant 94 million acres of corn. The bottom line is that we have to have a growing season that cooperates, too.

Two drought-resistant corn varieties are going to be planted this spring. We need it, especially as the Corn Belt expands westward. That’s one more example of keeping up with demand. We’re able to plant products, whether they’re drought or insect resistant, that improve our production and grain quality.

China is the second-largest producer of corn, but our quality is far-and-away better than theirs. The reason is because of biotech. There are no insects feeding on our corn.

In South Dakota, we’re also making gains in needed infrastructure and in farmland improvements.

Across the state, new grain elevators and shuttle-loading facilities are springing up. Rail lines are being improved. Infrastructure is a high priority as our production and markets grow.

Cooperative fall weather also provided an ideal opportunity for farmers to improve fields that have been hampered by flooding and saturation. A tremendous amount of drain tile was installed and we’re probably going to install a lot more this spring if it’s not too wet.

Drain tile helps increase yields, but what it helps even more is being able to get into a wet area and plant. Low areas become more productive and we’re able to raise corn on more acres.

Opportunities for our crops are growing, thanks to free-trade pacts. Recently, the South Korean government fully implemented a free-trade agreement with the United States. That’s huge. South Korea is the No. 3 buyer of U.S. corn, having imported 241 million.

The future looks bright.

Chad Blindauer, of Mitchell, is president of the South Dakota Corn Utilization Council.