Climbing down from a tractor with a land roller attached, Edwin Macasaet made note of the size of the implements.
“I’m so impressed with the equipment and how you plant the farm. It’s so easy,” he said.
Macasaet is a grain buyer from the Philippines. He works for a big egg farm that feeds its hens soybean meal, all purchased from the U.S. He sees U.S. soy as a reliable product. He can count on it to be available to meet his company’s needs, whereas production from other countries such as Argentina is going down, he said.
Macasaet was one of dozens of delegates from Asian countries to tour a southeastern South Dakota grain elevator and farm on June 12 before heading to the coast of Washington state where soy is shipped across the Pacific Ocean.
While the nation’s largest soybean buyer plays hard ball over trade deals, U.S. soybean producers are focusing their efforts on developing trade relationships with smaller markets.
“This is really the new wave for soybean growers. Our focus is really shifting form relying on that Chinese market,” said Bill Gordon, vice president of the American Soybean Association.
Gordon, who farms outside of Worthington, Minnesota, traveled with a large delegation to Colombia and Peru earlier this month.
In Bogotá he met with a non-profit fats and cooking oils association to talk about the benefits of using high oleic soybean oil in place of more expensive palm oil Colombians typically use for cooking.
“We’re trying to push that high oleic oil as a healthier fat for them for frying in their food,” Gordon said.
Last year, the U.S. exported $100 million in soybean oil to Colombia, according to the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association.
U.S. farm and food exports to Colombia have nearly tripled since 2012 under the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, reaching a record $2.9 billion last year, according to the soybean association. Last year, Colombia imported all of its soybeans, 97 percent of its corn, and 91 percent of its pork from the U.S.
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Gordon is preparing for another trade trip, to Indonesia and Thailand this time. It’s important for the U.S. to develop free trade agreements with such countries, he said.
“That puts a lot more pressure on the Chinese,” he said.
Grain buyers from several southeast Asian countries visited the farm of Dawn and Pat Scheier. The couple has hosted several tours at their Salem, South Dakota farm as part of Dawn’s role as secretary of the U.S. Soybean Expert Council and treasurer of the South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council board.
Heading to lunch in their farm shop, Dawn invited their guests to visit with neighboring farmers who had dropped by for the occasion. After lunch, she told them about some of the environmental measures they implement, from planting pollinator habitat to planting grass waterways that prevent erosion.
Others explained how crop insurance work, the workings of U.S. cattle operations and on-farm research.
South Dakota Secretary of Agriculture Kim Vanneman said fostering relationships with trade partners is a benefit for both South Dakota farmers and the buyers.
“We grow great crops in South Dakota,” she said. “If we can share them with the world, we want to do that.”
Grain buyers from other countries want to see where their products start. That’s another reason the U.S. Soybean Export Council hosts trade missions, said Paul Burke, the council’s director for soy marketing. Multi-generation farmers like the Scheiers have a story to tell, and that means a lot to foreign buyers from Asian and European countries. They see a multi-generation farm as a long-standing business, which means it must be well-run, ethical and reliable, he said.
With retaliatory tariffs from China continuing, it’s important to work with smaller countries, Pat Scheier said.
“We’ve got to do what we can to promote our product,” he said.