A rural St. James farm couple was part of a 27 member Minnesota farm delegation who visited China in late March to learn about Chinese agriculture, promote the export of Minnesota soybeans and to do a little sight seeing.
Harold and Jane Wolle were part of a delegation sponsored by the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council’s (MSR&PC) See For Yourself.
This was the eighth year of the See For Yourself program, and it has helped foster relationships with international customers. The Wolles had applied for earlier See For Yourself trips.
One big factor that perhaps helped the Wolles in being selected for the 2013 trip was last summer Harold and Jane hosted a delegation of about a dozen visiting Chinese chefs. The Chinese chefs learned about life and work on a Minnesota farm and how a family farm like the Wolles’ supplies its commodities to markets around the world.
Over half of Minnesota’s soybean production is exported to feed people and livestock around the world. China is the largest customer for U.S. and Minnesota soybeans with total purchases exceeding $10.5 billion in 2011.
The trip ran from March 19 through 28. The direct flight to China went from Chicago to Bejing and took 12 hours.
The Minnesota delegation visited four cities in their tour and many sightseeing locations. In addition to Bejing, the group visited Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Yantai.
There were sightseeing stops at locations like the Great Wall of China and Tiananmen Square which holds the ‘Forbidden City’ (forbidden because the Emperor use to live there) and the Emperor’s Palace.
Of course a big part of the trip involved learning about Chinese agriculture and how American farm commodities are used in Chinese agriculture.
One of the facilties visited was a large dairy farm run by the Huaxia Company and managed by some of the blokes from down under - Australians. The company had two farms and milked 4,000 cows.
The dairy produced milk and yogurt for the Chinese market. “Greek, Chinese yogurt,” I quipped. Harold smiled and said, “No - just yogurt.”
Like all farms in China, this large operation had “zero” pickup trucks. Manure was taken from the dairy barns to the fields by motorized three wheel carts.
The Wolles also visited a farm that raised chickens. The facility raised three million birds at one time. The goal of the company was to grow to where they were raising eight million birds at one time. The facility took 42 days to go from a hatched chick to slaughter. Because of concerns about bio-security, the workers in that facility could not leave it until one market cycle was completed.
There were some poultry imports from the United States. Americans don’t eat chicken feet, but the Chinese do. The Wolles saw boxes of Chicken feet that came from Perdue Foods.
Page 2 of 2 - Jane said these foods are dumped in bins and people can pick over what they want to buy. “It’s as if our meat cases here would be open and people could pick over the food they wanted to eat,” Jane said. Pigs feet was another big shipment from the U.S. to China.
They also visited an aquaculture farm that raised snakehead fish for domestic consumption.
All of these Chinese ag-industries are using Minnesota soybeans and other commodities in the raising of food for the Chinese people.
While the Wolles were visiting the new commercial side of Chinese agriculture with its large scale and high production output, they were also aware of the very small scale of most Chinese agriculture.
“There are 800 million people living on farms in China,” Harold said. That’s about 2 1/2 times the population of the entire United States.
Most farmers live on very small plots of land. But be it a huge, new corporate farm or a small family plot, all of the land is owned by the Chinese government.
The Minnesota delegation also visited two large Chinese ports. Shenzhen is now the fourth largest port in the world. Just a few years ago, before China became an exporting and importing powerhouse, Shenzhen had 20,000 people. Now it has 12 million.
They also visited the port of Yantai, where they toured a new soybean processing facility that no doubt processes many Minnesota grown beans.
Harold and Jane enjoyed the trip. Both learned about the growing links between Minnesota farms and the
Chinese people. “We love to travel, so when this opportunity came up we were happy to go,” Jane said.