International soy customers visit South Dakota farm, industry sites

Farm Forum

As South Dakota soybean farmers finish up another harvest, almost two-thirds of their crop will be exported to international customers. The value of those exports comes in at more than $1 billion, according to a soy checkoff study.

Some of those customers, hailing from China, Vietnam and Indonesia, recently visited South Dakota to experience a North American harvest and see how U.S. farmers transport soybeans from the field to the elevator on their way overseas.

United Soybean Board (USB) Director and soybean farmer Bob Metz hosted the trade team and walked them through the fields, helped them collect samples to be analyzed for protein and oil content, and showed them the immense storage capacity that U.S. farmers are known for. Following the farm tour, the trade team visited Eastern Farmers Cooperative in Canton, S.D., to see how soybeans from across the region get mixed together before being shipped to faraway lands.

“For our international friends and customers to see that we’re selling them the exact same thing that we feed our families, it really resonates with them and solidifies our long-term partnership,” says Metz. “These people are dependent on us to feed their children and grandchildren. On this visit, they saw my wife on the farm and my sons driving the tractors, which allowed them to see that our families are feeding their families.”

With so many of South Dakota’s soybeans shipped by rail to the Pacific Northwest before export to Asia, farmers in the state rely on international customers to support their livelihoods. And these markets have delivered increased demand. Between 2006 and 2010, the value of South Dakota soybean sales to foreign markets more than tripled from $340 million to $1.04 billion, according to the most recent data provided by the South Dakota Soybean Association (SDSA).

There are several factors that make U.S. soy stand out over the competition. For some customers, it may be performance advantages such as reliability and high-quality. For others, delivery confidence and a consistent supply chain might help differentiate them from the competition. A long-term partner that meets emerging global needs and enhances customers’ measurably and sustainably is important, too.

The U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC), which supports USB’s international-sales efforts, uses these three pillars to show that the U.S. soy industry is a trusted partner, providing its customers with a total quality experience: high-performing products delivered by the most reliable, consistent and sustainable soy supply chain in the world.

Building relationships is also important, notes Metz.

“It wasn’t my first time meeting one of the customers who visited my farm — I’ve been to his facility in Vietnam, which is always important in making a full circle with our Asian partners,” says Metz.

Agriculture is the state’s No. 1 industry, contributing $20.9 billion to its economy annually and accounting for 20 percent of South Dakota’s total economic activity, according to SDSA. Production agriculture and its related industries employ more than 80,000 South Dakotans.