Field Views is a new contribution series looking at ag policy issues from a grower perspective. Posts in this series are written by soy growers from across the country.
I recently returned from an international marketing mission to China, where I had the opportunity to meet with both farmers and customers throughout the country. The trip was a welcome reminder of the growth we have seen in soybean sales to China as they work to feed a growing population of over 1.3 billion people, and of the importance of keeping good trade relations with our top consumer.
China is the world’s largest importer of soybeans, importing between 84 and 88 million metric tons per year, and currently is the top market for U.S. soybeans, accounting for roughly $14 billion in sales which equates to about 1/3 of total U.S. soybean production.
As I traveled across the country, I saw cities growing seemingly overnight, with construction and new high-rises stretching as far as I could see. But I also saw their rural communities and farming operations, as well as contemporary processing plants.
As I learned on the trip, China has the most modern soybean processing industry in the world, with most of its modern, efficient plants built in eastern and southern port areas where imported soybeans can be off-loaded, processed in protein meal and vegetable oil, and then transported to feed mills and eventually to domestic livestock producer customers.
China also has a large feed industry that is dependent on imported soybeans. China’s domestic livestock sector is comprised of the largest swine herd in the world, the largest global aquaculture industry, and rapidly modernizing poultry, egg, dairy, and beef industries.
The American Soybean Association believes there is potential for increased soybean consumption and imports to China.
The Chinese government has definitive policy goals to move an additional 300 million people from rural lifestyles and incomes to urban lifestyles and incomes, which was evidenced by the astounding growth and construction I saw during my travels. Statistics show that when Chinese consumers move from the village to the city, their consumption of animal protein fed with soybean meal and soybean oil increase by 30 percent.
As such, it is vital to maintain a positive trade relationship with China. As ASA and farmer leaders looks to engage with Congress and the Administration on trade it is crucial what we emphasize the importance of not only growing new markets but maintaining the markets we currently export to.
A decline in exports to China from possible trade wars would not only hurt U.S. soybean growers like me but would hurt all of rural America.
Brandon Wipf serves on ASA’s Board of Directors and farms in Huron, South Dakota.