Iowa produces nearly as many soybeans as China. While Iowa’s soybean production averages 13.5 million metric tons (mmt), it’s estimated that China’s total soybean production is about 15 mmt, but has been as low as 12.5 mmt.

“The projected growth of soybean consumption here is remarkable, and we will need good partnerships with the Chinese to meet the needs of this country’s growing population,” says Christensen.

The trade team first visited the Heilongjiang province, which produces 33% of China’s soybeans. The farm visits in that province were a study in contrasts. From a visit to a 40,000-acre, state-owned farm to a 40-acre family farm, the scale was notably different, but the farmers’ pride in their operations was a common thread.

The State Farm Land Reclamation Bureau of Suihua MA Liuhe, a large-scale, state-owned farm. A demonstration farm for mechanization, the 40,000-acre farm supports about 600 households. The farm aims to become fully mechanized by 2012. Average soybean yields there are roughly 40-45 bu./acre; corn yields average approximately 140 bu./acre.

The second farm the ISA delegation visited was in the Dayong 4 village of the Hulan district, where the team met the woman who runs the 40-acre farm.

“The soybeans in this region have very consistent quality and seem to suffer little disease or insect pressure,” says Van Kooten.

Overall, the Iowa farmers were surprised by the quality of the soybeans they saw despite the fact that Chinese farmers don’t have access to U.S. soybean technology. “The plants are quite tall with a large number of pods, ranging from one to four beans per pod,” observes Van Kooten. “The varieties are determinant with more widely spaced nodes and differently shaped leaves, but the plants appear to be very healthy and should yield well.”

In the Jilin Province, the government encourages farmers to grow corn. The group saw soybeans grown in strips between corn crops, along road ditches and even in narrow dividers between rice fields.

While soybeans are a valuable crop in the Jilin Province, corn is king in that area. According to one of the guides, corn is called “jade rice” in that region. Again, the soybean fields ranged anywhere from a few acres to huge fields divided into strips, with a number of farmers growing their crops there cooperatively.

The Iowa farmers were surprised to learn that most farmers in that area bring their crops to the elevator at 30% moisture. Because they are guaranteed a price by the government and need the money, they hurry to deliver their crop and collect their payments.

“The scope and size of the market demand here is unbelievable,” says Kimberley. “It’s important to develop relationships to make sure the U.S. is the market of preference for Chinese buyers.”

While it was fascinating for the farmers to see soybean fields in China, they were clearly most impacted by the time spent with the farmers, their families and other villagers.

“This visit put our jobs in a whole new light,” says Van Kooten. “It’s important to remember where the crop is going, and that we’re feeding families here and across the globe.”  


February 2011