Seven in 2017

New Year's Eve is a natural time to look back at accomplishments from the previous year while looking forward to new opportunities. Below is a selection of my seven favorite photos from 2017. 

I have been fortunate to pursue a career in photography and writing that has led me around the world while meeting many people. I look forward to 2018 and all of the new opportunities it will bring.

Here’s to 2018.

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.

Global aquaculture transformed thanks to investment by the Iowa Soybean Association

Two thousand years of aquaculture in China was revolutionized by one simplistic system developed by the U.S. soybean industry and supported with an investment by Iowa soybean farmers.

That’s the takeaway that soybean leaders celebrated while visiting the first Intensive Pond Aquaculture (IPA) farm in China as participants in an all-Iowa ag trade mission July 19-28.

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Without a checkoff investment by the Iowa Soybean Association (ISA), that success may never have been realized, said ISA Director Jeff Jorgenson.

"With 40 percent of China imports coming from the U.S. the IPA system is going to enhance fish production into a higher inclusion of soybean meal in fish diets," said Jorgenson, an ISA director and soybean farmer from Sidney and member of the delegation visiting China. "The investment by soy checkoff dollars again will turn into more of Iowa soybeans being utilized around the world."

Two thousand years of aquaculture in China was revolutionized by one simplistic system. That is the takeaway that soybean leaders celebrated while visiting the first Intensive pond aquaculture (IPA) farm in China located outside of Shanghai.

China has practiced aquaculture for more than 2,000 years. But it wasn’t until 2013 that aquaculture was paired with IPA technologies to create a system that produced healthier fish and uses fewer resources while being fed sustainable soy grown in the United States and other countries.

The ISA in partnership with the U.S. soybean industry funded research to develop the IPA system, which has been provided to China in a technology transfer. The IPA system has been proven to triple the yield of farmed fish in existing Chinese ponds while greatly reducing the environmental impact.

"Iowa soybean farmers were the first to sponsor this technology. We are very appreciative for their generosity and support," said Jim Zhang, United States Soybean Export Council (USSEC) program manager for aquaculture in China.

IPA technology requires minimal modification to existing ponds and creates a zero water discharge system that increases yield with no negative impacts on the environment.

Water is diverted around the pond to keep it mixed. Fish are housed in concrete pens that have screens on the front and back. The circulating water creates a current that mimics the natural habitat of the fish while also removing waste manure. Other species of fish are contained in the ponds outside of the pens to feed off the nutrients.

The IPA technology also allows China’s limited water resources to be conserved and recycled. Excess waste can also be removed and used as fertilizer or biofuels.

"In 2013 when the project started there were only three cells. Now there are over 3,000 cells in China with the total construction investment, not mentioning the operational investment, is worth around $44 million," Zhang said.

The sky could be the limit for the new technology. Zhang believes the number of fish raised using the IPA system could double in the next five years.

"This technology helps to break all the bottlenecks that face China's aquaculture," he said. "Bottlenecks like labor, water, environmental and food safety."

Governor Kim Reynolds, who is leading the delegation, toured the site and fed some of the thousands of carp species raised on the farm.

"I'm extremely proud of the ISA to think that they were the original investor in this IPA. It is a win-win. Our farmers benefit from the increased use of soy, and these farms are reducing costs and expanding,

"It is a great example of what we want to see happen on the trade missions that we are a part of,” Reynolds added.

Karey Claghorn, Chief Operating Officer for the ISA, also toured the aquaculture farm powered by U.S. soybean meal.

"IPA has revolutionized the industry. It changed the way they could look at their in-pond systems," she said. "It allows them to improve water quality and environmental footprint. It was an exciting investment for us as it has worked out."

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

Overcoming “flatlander” syndrome

By Joseph L. Murphy

How do you overcome flatlanders? Those people who shrug-off science and embrace misinformation. The people who thought you would sail off the edge of the world until explorers armed with science proved the earth was round.

Wade Cowan, President of the American Soybean Association, and Sonia Tomassone,a trade consultant for the Paraguayan Grains and Oilseed Exporters Association, discuss biotechnology issues last week at an ISGA meeting in Beijing, China. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Wade Cowan, President of the American Soybean Association, and Sonia Tomassone,a trade consultant for the Paraguayan Grains and Oilseed Exporters Association, discuss biotechnology issues last week at an ISGA meeting in Beijing, China. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

That was a question Wade Cowan asked a group of farmers and industry leaders at the end of a three-day International Soy Growers Alliance (ISGA) meeting in China.

It was one of many questions asked during the three-day visit in China as leaders from Brazil, Argentina, United States and Paraguay talked with high level Chinese government and business agencies in hopes of them accepting new biotechnology seeds and farming practices.

Finding an answer to that questions and others seemed simple. Use communications from a unified group of countries to promote the understanding of biotech crops and food safety. But as many representatives of ISGA found, China is setting the pace, and in some cases, making the rules on approving biotech events. That pace and the undefined rules for biotech approvals are causing financial and social shockwaves around the globe according to a White Paper that was released in conjunction with the ISGA visit.

“It matters to all of us that we have freedom to operate and that we have the ability to use the tools in the toolbox,” Cowan said. “When they say it could take seven years to get a trait we can use in our fields, they have effectively taken away 25 percent of your productive life as a farmer. You couldn’t tell a wage worker in town that you would take away seven years of their productivity and knock them down. Science is science and once it is approved it needs to be approved everywhere.”

Through meetings with high-ranking industry, education and government leaders in China, members of ISGA presented information in a unified front to try and streamline the approval process. But to do that they found they have to overcome the fears of genetically modified crops when it comes to the Chinese people.

Wu Kongming, the Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, meets with ISGA members last week in Beijing, China. The ISGA promoted GM technology as a key component in addressing global food security issues during the meeting. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Wu Kongming, the Vice President of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences, meets with ISGA members last week in Beijing, China. The ISGA promoted GM technology as a key component in addressing global food security issues during the meeting. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

 

“I understand the conflict lies in the fast pace of research and development of GM events and the delay in approvals in consumer countries like China,” Chen Xuecong, the vice general manager of Sino Grain, said through an English translator. “From the perspective of the importers they have their own process and their consideration is more focused on food safety and the safety of biology. I believe that communications to the public is very important and it is also important for you to provide massive proof to show biotechnology is safe and that it will provide safe food for consuming country.”

That answer, in one form or another, was repeated to each group of ISGA international farmers as they met with the Chinese organizations. Organizations like the Department of American and Oceanian Affairs Ministry of Commerce, the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences and the Department of Supervision on Animal and Plant Quarantine.

“It would be a significant improvement if all the ISGA countries together with Chinese industry could work together to create a pilot program for soybeans,” Jim Sutter told Chen Xuecong and others gathered at a meeting.

Chen Xuecong discusses biotechnology issues with members of the ISGA during a recent visit to Sino Grain in Beijing, China. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

Chen Xuecong discusses biotechnology issues with members of the ISGA during a recent visit to Sino Grain in Beijing, China. (Photo: Joseph L. Murphy)

 

The ISGA, formed 10 years ago from countries representing 95 percent of the world’s soybean production, has been working together in a united front to prod European and Asian countries to approve biotechnology events in an efficient manner. The ISGA representatives that participated in the mission to China know their message is being received, but the actions of the Chinese government are still undefined.

“This week everyone was talking the same language and for me it was impressive,” Sonia Tomassone, a trade consultant for the Paraguayan Grains and Oilseed Exporters Association, said. “We need to present a single paper to everyone we met with to show we have one voice on this issue.”

Originally published for the Iowa Soybean Association. Find more great stories at: www.iasoybeans.com/news