Understanding the Vietnam War

Today I finished watching The Vietnam War: A Film by Ken Burns and Lynn Novick. The documentary that aired on PBS was a comprehensive look at the war that changed the U.S. while impacting the Asian Continent for decades.

Old prints from Larry Larson's tour of duty in Vietnam.

Old prints from Larry Larson's tour of duty in Vietnam.

I grew up during the time many Vietnam veterans were adjusting to life back in the states. I Remember listening to stories of family friends that completed a tour of duty in Vietnam, and I often asked my dad about his experiences during that time.

Like many adult males during the late 60’s and early 70’s my dad had a choice to make. He decided to volunteer for the National Guard in the hopes he wouldn’t have to serve overseas. The gamble paid off as he served active duty in Iowa for six years from 1965 to 1971 during a turbulent time. I have to admit that I was embarrassed to tell people that he didn’t serve in Vietnam. Until I watched the documentary.

My father holding my sister at our home in Forest City in 1970.

My father holding my sister at our home in Forest City in 1970.

That is when I realized how polarized the climate was in the U.S. and how insane the prosecution of the war had become for the generals and political figures leading it. Hearing the experiences of Hal Kushner, John Musgrave, Matt Harrison, Tom Vallely, Sam Wilson and others made me realize that the fog of war that consumed our troops fighting an unseen enemy in dense jungles was only matched by the fog of culture clashes that tore at the seems of this great country.

Since that time I have also realized how important the National Guard is. Especially after understanding the role they had in Afganistan and Iraq.

Traveling to Vietnam in 2013 has also had a lasting impact on me. I stood on the heliport of the presidential palace where the last Americans were evacuated from the country. I also stayed in the Hotel Majestic, in Ho Chi Minh City, where John F. Kennedy had dinner as a U.S. Senator in the 50s. I even took a boat trip down the Saigon River seeing miles of dense jungle line the river bank. The entire time I was in Vietnam I tried to imagine what it was like during the war. I also grappled with the fact that Vietnam is now a prospering country with an economy that offers luxury commercial brands like Louis Vuitton, Cartier, and Mercedes-Benz. It is a far cry from my earlier notions of a drab depressed communist country.

Now as the veterans of Vietnam become grandparents and move towards retirement they have finally been afforded the respect they deserve from serving in a brutal war. A war that brought turmoil to both countries and left many lives shattered. I only wish that my father, David Murphy, was alive (he died in a tragic motorcycle accident) to ask him more questions about his experiences during that time. I also wish that Larry Larson, my father-in-law, was alive so I could ask him about his experiences of serving in Vietnam. Both were threads of the fabric that made the Vietnam era.

Meaning can be found by listening to the stories of the people who lived through it. That is why I will always take time to listen to the people that lived during that era. 

Source: https://www.jmurphpix.com/

Chinese crusher positions itself on the new Silk Road

The Chinese government would like the historic Silk Road to be prominent once again, and U.S. soybeans could play an important role.

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Shaanxi Shiyang Group established its soybean crushing business in Xi'an, a city far from the Chinese coasts and other competitors. Preferring to rely on a strong transportation network that includes roads, river and rail the company believes it will be best for their business to be near their customers.

Sound familiar? It did to Governor Kim Reynolds and other members of an Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) trade mission last week as they visited the company.

"We have a lot in common," Reynolds told the CEO while pointing to the state of Iowa on a map on the back of an ISA business card. "We are in the center of the country far from the coasts too."

Chang Qingshan, CEO of the Shaanxi Shiyang Group, hopes the strategic position will capitalize on the reemergence of the Silk Road.

The Silk Road was an ancient trade route between China and the West during the Roman Empire. It’s how silk from the orients make it to Europe and how China received western goods in return.

China President Xi Jinping announced in 2013 a new $900 billion trade corridor would reopen channels between China and Central Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The new Silk Road will be on land and sea with experts saying it will be a way for China to continue to boost global trade.

"They don’t have as much competition in the central part of China. If you look at the re-establishment of the silk road going north and west out of China there’s a lot of advantages logistically," Kirk Leeds, ISA CEO, said after touring Shaanxi Shiyang Group's facility.

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Shiyang Group was first established in 1992 and transformed into a joint stock limited company in 1999. The Group focuses mainly on farming, breeding and processing but it also has integrated into other areas like the sale of soybean cooking oil. The CEO told the ISA delegation and Governor Reynolds that 35 percent of the beans they crush is from the United States.

"They told us that 35 percent of their soybeans come from the U.S., but that leaves 65 percent that didn’t," Leeds said. "You have to listen to customers, but at the end of the day when you look at the total value of soybeans, consistency, on-time delivery and financing, they know there is an advantage in buying from the U.S."

Qingshan told the Iowa delegation he continues to be concerned with foreign material in shipments coming from the U.S., but as the Iowa group drilled into the numbers, they found the percentage was below the allowable rate for the beans they had purchased.

Currently, one out of every four rows of soybeans are exported to China. The country is by far the largest soybean importer projected at 83 million metric tons, or a little more than 3 billion bushels.

Jeff Jorgenson, an ISA director from Sidney, and other U.S. farmers would like that number to increase as large surpluses drag commodity prices down.

“There’s no better opportunity to sell soybeans than right now," Jorgenson said. "There is affordability, and we have plenty of supply, so obviously we see that in the markets. There is no better opportunity than having the folks we have in China with  Ambassador Branstad, with the United States Soybean Export Council and our Governor that we shouldn’t be able to make strides in moving more soybeans to China.”

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Read more articles at www.iasoybeans.com.

 

U.S. Ambassador Branstad still championing for Iowa agriculture

United States Ambassador Terry Branstad received a standing ovation from Iowa's agricultural groups as he entered a meeting room at the U.S. Embassy in Beijing Tuesday.

It was the first event in a historic week of meetings during the all-Iowa agriculture trade mission: one that marks the first time all of the state’s commodity groups have traveled overseas together. The purpose of the trip is to enhance relationships and create new ones between the people of China and Iowa farmers, agricultural groups and elected leaders.

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"Welcome to the American Embassy. We are excited to have you here," Branstad told the farmers and agriculture representatives at the start of the meeting.

He said that it had been a busy three weeks in his new position with deep dives into a wide range of information relating to China. Branstad was flanked by the heads of the major departments at the Embassy including Defense, public affairs, agriculture affairs, commercial affairs and political affairs.

While his position as Ambassador offers new opportunities, Branstad won't forget the tactics that made him successful and led to being the nation’s longest-serving governor. He plans to continue the Iowa tradition of visiting every county in the state annually by visiting all of China's regions while conducting meetings with high-ranking government officials.

Governor Reynolds, the head of the all-Iowa agriculture trade mission, thanked the Ambassador for the historic meeting.

"Relationships are especially important in China, and we are fortunate that Governor Branstad welcomed a then-local agricultural official from China over 30 years ago into Iowa named Xi Jinping who is now the nation's president," Reynolds said earlier in the week during tours in Shanghai and Xi'an.

Those relationships have now been enriched and extended with Branstad's new role as U.S. Ambassador.

"It doesn't escape Ambassador Branstad of how important it is that all of the Iowa agriculture groups are here in China," Rolland Schnell, president of the Iowa Soybean Association, said. "We are here as one unit and Branstad recognizes how important that is to Iowa’s economy."

The delegation hopes to further solidify with the leaders of China that we are partners in meeting mutual goals in food security, safety and sustainability.

Department heads at the Embassy gave the agriculture leaders and farmers a snapshot of issues they are working on in China. Several issues discussed were:

  1. China's investment in the United States has now surpassed U.S. investment in China.
  2. Food consumption in China is expected to grow 25 percent from 2015 to 2020.
  3. China doesn't want to be reliant on any one country for goods, but U.S. soybeans are an exception.
  4. The U.S. has over $450 billion in investments in China.
  5. China is pursuing an initiative to increase manufacturing of its own agricultural machinery.
  6. A top priority in China is to be more environmentally friendly.

One question from the Iowa delegation pertained to trade and what some would consider political instability in Washington, D.C. Ambassador Branstad assured the group that trade between the U.S. and China would continue to grow.

"We were assured that agricultural trade is always separate from those other issues," Schnell said. "They need us, they want us, and we don’t need to worry about issues that may come up politically affecting our trade.”

That was good news for all members of the Iowa delegation; especially for those members growing and representing soybeans. China is by far the largest soybean importer in the world and is projected at 83 million metric tons, or a little more than 3 billion bushels. The U.S. markets nearly 1.1 billion bushels annually.

Branstad told the group that during meetings with President Trump last week in Washington, D.C. he presented a plan to bring top business leaders to China to discuss trade barriers and possibly sign contracts.

Soybeans, of which Iowa often leads the nation in production of, are a primary feed ingredient for pigs. China, which wasn’t in the market for soybeans 15 years ago, currently accounts for 60 percent of global soybean imports – and growing. One of every four rows of soybeans grown in Iowa is destined for China.

It is apparent that Branstad still intends to champion Iowa agriculture in his new position, telling the leaders gathered that he hopes to get more U.S. products into the embassy and China.

"I met with Tom Vilsack (currently president and CEO of the US Dairy Export Council) to talk about the vague rules concerning dairy imports into China. The milk we drink in the Embassy is from Australia," He said. "I'd like to see it come from the U.S."

Schnell was honored to have the opportunity to visit with Ambassador Branstad in his new role in China.

“It is overwhelming when you step back and think about it,” Schnell said about meeting with a U.S. Ambassador in China. “Most farmers don’t get an opportunity to do this; to be there and see all the things that are going on at the ground level, all the work that is being done to support agriculture. I don’t think the general farming public realizes what is involved and what it takes to make the excellent trade programs we have and how they translate into dollars in farmers’ pockets."

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Read more articles at www.iasoybeans.com.

Aquaculture tour shows power of the soybean checkoff

United States soy meal is finding an ever expanding market south of the border thanks to aquaculture.

This week about 50 growers, state soybean staff and United States Soybean Export Council (USSEC) employees spent the week in Villahermosa, Mexico learning about existing opportunities and future expansion of the industry.

Tim Bardole, ISA director from Rippey, feeds a pen of tilapia at the Regal Springs Tilapia farm in Mexico.  

Tim Bardole, ISA director from Rippey, feeds a pen of tilapia at the Regal Springs Tilapia farm in Mexico. 

“We’re here to help show the soybean farmers in the U.S. where their checkoff dollars are being invested, how they are being invested and ultimately where much of their soybean meal ends up,” Colby Sutter, marketing director for the global aquaculture program with USSEC, said while leading a tour at Regal Springs Tilapia. “It’s crucial to be able to see first-hand how relationships have been forged in international marketing programs where ultimately we are creating a preference and demand for U.S. soy.”

Regal Springs Tilapia is a company that specializes in 100 percent lake grown fish with farms in southern Mexico, Honduras, Brazil and Indonesia. The fish are raised in deep water lakes in large floating nets that take advantage of water currents to maintain fresh water and give the fish a more natural habitat.

According to Geraldo Martinez, production manager for Regal Springs Tilapia, the company will produce 30,000 pounds of fish out of two lakes in Mexico per year. That equates to 30 million fish weighing about one kilogram each. The secret ingredient to the success of their business is the soybean meal used in the formulated diets of the fish.

“For one kilo of fish we will need 1.95 kilos of feed,” Martinez said. “So if you are talking 30,000 tons of fish you will need just short of 60,000 tons of feed in a year.”

Martinez said that about 25 to 30 percent of the feed ration was made using soy meal. He sights free trade agreements with the U.S. as an incentive in buying soy grown and crushed in America.

The company exports 75 percent of their fish to customers outside of Mexico. Of that, 95 percent of the fish are exported to the U.S. and the other five percent go to European markets. Costco is one of the major retailers in the U.S. that sells the tilapia.

April Hemmes and Tim Bardole, both directors for the Iowa Soybean Association, attended the aquaculture educational opportunity and were impressed with how U.S. soy meal is being used.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for me as a soy producer in the United States,” Bardole said. “It’s a win, win. There’s a growing market out there for fish and we grow soybeans. We can help supply the soybeans and the some of the expertise to get feeds just right. And to see that back on the shelves in the U.S. shows that the soybean checkoff has done great things for the U.S. farmer and the public.”

Hemmes agreed with Bardole and found the tour of the aquaculture facility important with her new roles in the soybean community. She said that as a new USB director and a new ISA director it was important to see companies like Regal Springs to learn how the checkoff is helping to open new markets.

“To hear that there are ten percent increases each year in some of these countries producing aquaculture is huge and a great potential for soybeans,” Hemmes said. “I see it (aquaculture) as a very important market and a way that we can increase exports and uses for soybeans in a neighboring country.”

She went on to say that seeing the fish pens, hatchery and packaging facility gave her an appreciation of the detail Regal Springs uses to produce high-quality tilapia for their customers.

“What was amazing was to see the tiny fish eggs hatching before our eyes and talking with a feed expert about how precise the feed has to be,” Hemmes said.  You see these little fish the size of a pinhead, and you realize that they have to get everything they need in one little bite and how precise that needs to be for them to grow and survive.”

Panama - For richer or poorer

Wealth and poverty. It is all on display in the small Central American country of Panama. During a recent trip to see the Panama Canal and gauge the progress of its expansion, wealth and poverty were the stark contrasts, a situation that is shared by many other Latin American countries.

The flight into Panama City reveals what most wouldn’t expect in Central and South America. Skyscrapers and a bustling modern metropolitan area. A tour guide boasted that Panama City has 109 skyscrapers — more than other major South American cities like Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. It even has more skyscrapers than Los Angeles, Seattle, Miami, and Houston. But like many cities, the gleam of the skyscrapers doesn't always illuminate the struggles that are happening on the streets below.

The main economic driver of the country is the canal — a system of locks that have allowed large ships to navigate a north and south route stretching 51 miles through Panama safely. The route that shaves time and saves money for precious cargo. For instance, ships sailing from New York to San Francisco can save 7,872 miles instead of going around Cape Horn in South America.

Much of the cargo is either destined for or originates from the United States. In fact, 70 percent of the cargo passing through the canal falls in that category.

It is often said that money breeds money and in Panama's case that is just the beginning. The 109 skyscrapers are a result of foreign investments in the country since Manuel Noriega’s dictatorship ended in 1989 and the Panama-U.S. Free Trade Agreement was signed in 2012. More than 100 branches of multinational enterprises including Caterpillar, BASF, Philips, Adidas and Trump International call the country home.

But life stays stagnant for the people in the shadows of the skyscrapers. Neighborhoods near Casco Viejo, the historical beginning of Panama City founded by the Spanish in 1673, can’t hide the poverty that is prevalent. It's a place that is optimistic for change but content with life. In many ways the situation of the people mirrors the geography of their neighborhoods. Stuck between the old city center of Panama and the booming skyscrapers across the bay. With wealth just out of reach.

 

What will help the poorest of the poor in Panama? The outside fortunes of investments continue to help, and a stable government with leaders that are focused on helping all citizens of Panama can go a long way. As I watched shipments of grain pass through the locks of the Panama Canal, I know that the American farmer is doing their part by utilizing the waterway to move their 600 million bushels of soybeans every year.

The toll money paid to the Panamanians for the service of the canal continues to churn a democratic economy that is lately turning its attention to not only expanding the canal for the future but also to helping citizens that have yet to see the benefits of the strong economy. With the more than $5.25 billion investment for the expansion of the canal, the Panamanian government has also dedicated money to improve conditions in provinces like Colon that have seen economic declines and rising poverty for much of the past 50 years. Colon is the port and canal entrance on the Caribbean or Atlantic side of Panama. The area is part of a massive restoration project that began in 2014. The focus is in restoring historic buildings, roads, parks and building housing.

There’s economic evidence that things are getting better for the citizens of Panama. According to Trading Economics, the unemployment rate decreased to 2.50 percent in 2015 from 4.10 percent in 2013. The highest recorded rate was at 16.30 percent during the time period between 1982 and 2015.

Will the light of Panama's economy shine through the shadows and illuminate the country? If the successful expansion of the canal is an indication Panama's economy will continue to thrive and so will their democracy. With some experts predicting unemployment rates trending around 2.06 percent in 2020. The combination of the expanded canal as an economic driver and low unemployment rates will help all of Panama's citizens enjoy the wealth it creates.

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association