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China’s Growing Appetite For Minnesota Soybeans

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(credit: CBS) Bill Hudson
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GOOD THUNDER, Minn. (WCCO) — It’s been a cold, rainy spring but finally, Minnesota farmers have most of their crops in the ground. The success of Minnesota’s soybean season is being watched very closely half a world away.

Holding soybeans in his hands, farmer Earl Ziegler says, “That’s the protein for the world, right here.”

But all the soybeans on Ziegler’s farm wouldn’t be enough to satisfy the growing need in China.

“As the developing nations have an extra dollar in their pocket, the first thing they’re going to spend it on is food,” he said.

As the Chinese economy booms, so has their appetite for meat. In fact, it’s doubled in the past 20 years.

Chef Allen Li said in the past, Chinese ate more pork and chicken. But the Chinese diet is diversifying. Now at Chef Li’s steakhouse in Beijing, he says people “especially eat high-quality beef.”

A lot of that quality beef is being grown on Minnesota soybeans.

“Half of the beans that we export are going to China now,” said farmer Jim Call who has 3,000 acres near Madison, Minn.

He’s been involved in trade missions with China and said Minnesota farmers have to think about the bigger picture.

“Now we’re in such a global society that when something happens in China, it directly affects my farm,” Call said. “I don’t think your average consumer realizes how much is going over to China and how important that market is for the U.S. economy.”

At a recent meeting in Mankato, farmers are talking about how to market Minnesota soybeans to the growing world market. Increased demand will mean higher prices. The USDA estimates soybeans could sell for up to $14 a bushel this year; that’s $3 more than last year.

At the Ziegler’s farm in Good Thunder, Minn., he thinks about his grandfather who started this farm a century ago and the fact that one out of every four rows that he plants will go half-way around the world — helping to feed a growing nation.

“I think he would really be proud to think that it went this far,” Ziegler said. “I think the future with China looks excellent.”

Soybeans are Minnesota’s number one agricultural export. Only two other states grow more soybeans than Minnesota farmers — Iowa and Illinois.

Joan Gilbertson, Producer
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