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N.D. farm hosts Chinese soy buyers

COLFAX, N.D. - More than a dozen Chinese soybean buyers wrapped up a whirlwind tour of Upper Midwest farms with a stop in rural Colfax, N.D. Paul and Vanessa Kummer, and their son, Blaine, farm more than 3,000 acres of wheat, sugar beets, corn an...

COLFAX, N.D. - More than a dozen Chinese soybean buyers wrapped up a whirlwind tour of Upper Midwest farms with a stop in rural Colfax, N.D. Paul and Vanessa Kummer, and their son, Blaine, farm more than 3,000 acres of wheat, sugar beets, corn and soybeans.

Vanessa also is one of two North Dakota directors on the United Soybean Board, one of the tour's sponsors. She's been on the board for three years, participating in their international marketing committee, and chairs the large growth markets subcommittee, which focuses on China, Mexico, Latin America. Southeast Asia and the Middle East.

New global awareness

"I think as farmers, we have to take responsibility for promoting our own product," she says, adding that the global market is something new for most U.S. growers. "The learning curve is very steep," she admits. "I've been learning a lot about the different markets we're involved in."

Last summer, the Kummers hosted a tour group from Thailand and the Philippines, and another group from China visited five years ago. Vanessa went to China two years ago to look at soybean production there, in a region roughly the same latitude as North Dakota.

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She says she was surprised to find that many growers there farm less than 10 acres each.

"It's either large government farms or 80-acre fields worked by several individual farmers," she explains. "They each go out and plant their own rows, and they know which rows in the field are theirs."

Colfax highlights

Arriving at the Kummer farm on a sunny, but frosty, late-September morning, the Chinese visitors stepped from their charter bus and met their hosts. Their first questions were about soybean market prices, biofuel prices and average yields.

The Kummers showed them a sugar beet truck they own jointly with a neighbor who is on an opposite hauling schedule. Another vehicle pulled up, presumably insurance adjusters returning to check on hail damage from earlier in the season.

The Kummers had some hail damage on about 700 acres of corn and soybeans, not nearly as bad as a 1980 hailstorm that damaged nearly all of their cropland. The Chinese visitors were curious about how the U.S. crop insurance system works.

"It's not something they would experience in Chinese farming, so that's something new," says Brent Babb, director of internal relations and communications for the U.S. Soybean Export Council.

Tour impressions

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Babb has been with the group throughout their tour.

"This is our 19th farm visit, and it's actually the last farm on our tour," he explains. "It's been an excellent trip.

"None of them had been on a U.S. soybean farm before, so it's been good for them to see things firsthand and to hear from soybean producers what the crop looks like this year.

"They also like to hear how the prices are arrived at for farmers and to compare that to the prices they are going to pay," Babb continues. "It gives them a better understanding of the market."

Babb says China didn't start importing soybeans until 1999, but now accounts for 13 percent of the U.S. soybean export crop.

"Now they're by far our largest customer," he states.

"We really want them to see the quality of the U.S. crop and the availability. Also the passion and care and the importance that our U.S. farmers put on producing the crop, along with the relationship we want to build with our export customers."

Unique experiences

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On previous farm visits, the group had the opportunity to ride combines during the soybean harvest. In Colfax, the cooler weather has delayed harvest, and rain the day before the visit prevented them from getting out into the field.

Tour participant Jarry Shi works for a Chinese company that operates three crushers. He says equipment is one of the biggest differences between U.S. and Chinese agriculture.

"The equipment here is very big, and there's much efficiency," he notes. "The most important is the modernization of the agriculture industry in the United States."

Shi studied international trading at a Chinese university, "but we didn't study soybeans," he adds.

Future expectations

Kummer expects more North Dakota farmers to grow soybeans in the coming years because of the biofuels market and because it is a crop which doesn't demand a lot of nitrogen inputs. She says acreage statewide has increased more than sixfold since she first served on the North Dakota Soybean Growers board.

"The spread of where soybeans have gone in North Dakota is pretty amazing," she says. "It used to be basically Cass and Richland counties, now it's gone almost all the way into Canada and out past Jamestown."

Kummer says new varieties that are Roundup Ready and more drought resistant have made soybean production much more profitable.

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