Doug Pohlman (right) of Lakefield, Minn., thanks a Vietnamese poultry farmer for hosting the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council’s See For Yourself delegation. Thirteen Minnesota farmers toured parts of Vietnam to assess soybean checkoff investments in the country. (Contributed photo)
The Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council (MSR&PC) went to the Far East for it’s most recent See For Yourself trip. A delegation of farmers took a tour of Vietnam to see firsthand how the MSR&PC investments in the country are paying off for American soybean farmers.
Kevin Paap is a farmer from Garden City and the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation President. He also serves on behalf of the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) on Soy Insights (formerly Soy 20-20), a strategic planning group looking at markets and demand. He said Vietnam is one of the world’s fastest emerging markets.
“With being involved in the AFBF Trade Advisory Committee as Chair,” Paap said, “we’ve been very active in trade talks, including the Trans Pacific Partnership, the See For Yourself was a good opportunity to mesh all those things together.”
He said trade missions are most successful when put together by people with what he called “boots on the ground.” It’s important that people who know the countries, such as the US Meat Export Federation (USMEF) and the US Soybean Export Council (USSEC), help with lining up the trips. That way, Paap said they wouldn’t turn into sightseeing trips.
Paap said describing Vietnam as an emerging market for agricultural goods might catch some people by surprise, but a number of different factors make it a true statement.
“It’s an emerging market because it’s the 13th most populous country in the world,” Paap said, “and that number is increasing by about 1 percent per year. It’s also the eighth most populous country in Asia. They’re only the 32nd largest economy in the world, but they’re growing.”
Vietnam is the 11th largest export market for American agricultural products. They import 70 percent of their livestock feed ingredients, which means they can’t raise it themselves. They also pay a lot for their own food.
“They spend 65 percent of their incomes on food,” Paap said. “They don’t necessarily want more calories, but better calories in their food, before they spend their money on a car or a house. They’d like to eat something more than rice 3 times a day.”
The other opportunity for livestock feed comes from strong Vietnamese pork production. It may come as a surprise, but Vietnam ranks sixth overall in world hog production and seventh in the world in pork consumption.
Paap called the “See For Yourself” trips that most of the checkoff organizations are now hosting a great opportunity for farmers to see how their checkoff dollars are invested, both locally and overseas.
“It’s tough to see opportunities overseas when you aren’t there,” Paap said, “and the opportunities are there in international marketing. Until you not only see, but also hear from, those folks with boots on the ground, it’s exciting to know they want better food.
“They can’t grow the crops themselves and they’re very accepting of biotechnology,” Paap said. “With limited land, biotechnology is the only way they can grow more on the land they do have.”
Thirteen Minnesota farmers toured Vietnam to evaluate the work of the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, the elected board of Minnesota farmers who direct investments of soybean checkoff money to open new markets, create new uses, educate farmers and non-farmers and promote soybeans. (Contributed photo)
First impressions for farmers on overseas trips can vary greatly. Ben Storm farms near Dover, in Olmsted County, and went along on the See For Yourself trip to Vietnam. He said the first thing that jumped out at him when he stepped foot in the country.
“The modernization,” Storm said. “The feed mill we toured look all new with modern technology. You might have thought you were in a feed mill in the United States. The poultry farm we toured had 20,000 laying hens. The only difference between that and a barn in the US was the hens are hand fed and the eggs are picked by hand.”
He said the Bungee soybean crushing facility actually prefers American soybeans to South American beans. American soybeans, particularly from Minnesota, arrive at their plant with much less moisture and heat damage.
Overseas trips to Asian marketing partners are very important. Asian businesses typically place a very high value on face-to-face interaction.
“You’ve got to have those relationships and know each other before they’re willing to do business with you. It’s a much different culture than in the US.”
An American farmer back home who’s never been on one of these trips may be saying ‘how does this benefit me?’ The 13 Minnesota farmers on the trip saw firsthand how important and effective these trips are.
Ben Storm (left) of Dover, Minn., and Kevin Paap of Garden City, Minn., tour a market in Hanoi, Vietnam. Paap and Storm were guests of the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council, which sent a delegation of 13 Minnesota farmers to Vietnam as part of its See For Yourself program. (Contributed photo)
“It just so happened that Keith Schrader (Nerstand, MN), the Chairman of the MSR&PC was on the trip,” said Kim Nill, Minnesota Soybean Director of Market Development. “He was the leader of this trip. When he walked into place after place over there, it was ‘Oh, hi Mr. Schrader,’ and ‘How good to see you again,’ et cetera. Keith has been there a couple times and also been a part of USSEC projects to bring Vietnamese here.”
Nill added, “It was surprising, even to me, to see how many of them already knew Keith and greeted him warmly.”
In terms of actual business conversations, the 13 farmers also heard firsthand how USSEC investments overseas pay off in terms of increasing market demand and buyer loyalty as well. Nill said the 13 farmers asked very probing questions of overseas customers and partners.
“For example, they would say ‘Okay Mr. Soybean Mill operator, we’ve heard about what the USSEC investment did to help you get your mill built, or maybe improved it’s capacity. Has that made you more likely to purchase soybeans from the United States?’ Then, they’d hear the response of that feed mill owner or swine farm operator, and the answer was obviously, yes.”
These trips do add to the bottom line for American farmers. USSEC recently hired an economics expert from Texas A&M University to run the numbers to see how much impact these types of trips have to the American agricultural economy.
“They do go through the calculations to see what the impact of the checkoff expenditures is to the bottom line of soybean producers,” Nill said. “Their latest determination is that for every 1 dollar of checkoff funds spent on projects like the Vietnam trip, it returns 7 dollar net benefit back to the boots on the ground farmers in the United States.”
Tran Trong Chien is the USSEC Country Representative for Vietnam, and Ben Storm said he and the rest of the staff do a great job promoting American soybeans.
“Everywhere he went, people knew who he was,” Storm said. “It was pretty obvious he’s done a great job getting to know people and promoting American products. I was extremely pleased with how we’re investing our money over there.”