U.S. soybeans in demand in China

NEW ULM – A Sigel Township farmer recently returned from a 10-day visit to China sponsored by the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.

Richard Wurtzberger, who grows corn and beans with his son John, was part of a group of 27 Minnesota farmers who visited the port of Shenzhen and other agricultural production facilities, His daughter Sharon Deutsch also participated. The group learned how the demand for U.S. soybeans continues to increase to feed China’s growing population.

The trip sought to show farmers the impact China has on the state and national soybean industry, adding $26 billion annually to the world economy.

Wurtzberger said that while China produces food on a huge scale, it can’t feed its expanding population, so it buys lots of U.S. farm products.

“They’ve got 1.2 billion people to feed,” Wurtzberger said. “Their agriculture production facilities are huge and getting bigger. We toured a chicken farm that produces 100,000 chickens a day. They plan to produce 200,000 chickens a day in about a year. Their hybrid chickens reach full growth in just 42 days. Chinese dairy prides itself on using no hormones or antibiotics.”

The group toured a 3,500-head dairy farm that did onsite processing. The facility’s dairy cows were fed round hay bales imported from California.

“I drank irradiated, whole milk there that stays on the shelf without refrigeration but costs about $12 a gallon,” Wurtzberger said. “The huge dairy operation was self-sufficient, producing its own electricity with huge methane digesters.”

He said the Chinese can’t raise enough soybeans to feed their population so they buy U.S. soybeans. Meanwhile, U.S. organic dairy producers buy non-GMO (Genetically-Modified Organisms) soybeans from China.

Wurtzberger said the Chinese consider food like pig ears, chicken feet, hog stomachs and butts as delicacies.

He said he enjoyed visiting Shenzhen, one of the fastest-growing cities in the world. The city recently received more than $30 billion in foreign investment in foreign-owned, joint manufacturing and service industry ventures. Shenzhen is home to the Shenzhen Stock Exchange and the headquarters of many high-tech companies.

Twenty years ago, Shenzhen had 50,000 people. Today, it has 14 million inhabitants and is expected to double in population in the next decade.

“While some countries are really struggling with the conversion to capitalism, China seems to be doing it much better with a gradual, organized way with developments like Special Economic Zones.

Wurtzberger said there are many American firms in China.

“It’s easy to find Coco-Cola products, but tougher to find coffee,” he said.

Wurtzberger is one of 15 farmers, elected to three-year terms, who make up the Minnesota Research and Promotion Council. Member tasks include ensuring check-off dollars are spent wisely on research and promoting soybeans.

Chinese buyers told Wurtzberger that northern U.S. soybeans have as much or more essential amino acids – a key factor in converting soy protein to animal protein – as South American soybeans.

(Fritz Busch can be e-mailed at fbusch@nujournal.com).

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