A Chile experience
WORTHINGTON -- Rural Worthington farmer and Minnesota Soybean Growers Association board member Bill Gordon recently returned from a research mission trip to Santiago, Chile.
Gordon was among 17 soybean growers from Minnesota to take part in the MSGA and its research and promotion council's See For Yourself program. While on the journey, their goal was to learn more about soybean research being conducted by the University of Minnesota in Chile, as well as to meet with Chilean importers of U.S. soybeans and soy products.
"When you go to these countries, see them face to face and talk to them about how and what you're doing, it's very important," said Gordon. "They learn to trust us in our production, just as the American people have learned to trust us in our production."
The five-day research trip included a tour of the University of Minnesota's five-acre soybean test plot about an hour outside of Santiago, as well as Monsanto and Pioneer's winter seed production operations.
As a representative of MSGA's research and tech committee, Gordon said he was most interested in learning how Minnesota soybean checkoff dollar investments are being used to benefit producers across the state.
"The majority of our checkoff money is spent in the state on soybeans and soybean diseases and breeding programs," he said. "We do have things like this where we spend some of our money outside the country."
Dr. Jim Orf, who leads the plant breeding program at the U of M, has submitted projects to the MSGA for potential soybean checkoff dollars for several years. One of those projects, said Gordon, is using non-GMO (genetically modified) Minnesota soybean varieties for different purposes.
"A lot of those are used for base genetics for breeding purposes by Monsanto and Pioneer," he added.
The U of M has had a plant breeding program in Chile since 1985. Land is leased from the country's Federal Institute on Plant Science.
"The main purpose (of growing soybeans in Chile) is to have two growing seasons per year," Gordon said. "You can speed up the process for new varieties of soybeans."
The See For Yourself group spent most of its trip in the Santiago area, in central Chile. The weather there is most conducive to soybean production. Farther south, there is more rainfall, and to the north, the climate is hotter and drier.
"It's a Mediterranean climate," Gordon said. "Everything is irrigated, which is great for disease and insect resistance. It makes it very desirable for raising seed production soybeans."
The country has an anti-GMO consumption law on soybeans, said Gordon, meaning that they cannot produce or feed genetically modified soybeans to their population. Any seed grown with genetic modifications must therefore be destroyed or exported, he added.
In addition to learning about the soybean research taking place in Chile, Gordon said participants met with potential customers and learned of the country's growing economy.
"They use a lot of soybeans and corn," he said, adding that while they get both crops from neighboring Brazil and Argentina, transport through the mountains is a challenge.
"It actually takes less time to go through our southern ports," said Gordon. "When we got down there, we found out that they buy a lot of soybeans from us already."
Chile has no national debt due to its sales of copper and gold mining, as well as exports of fruits and vegetables, said Gordon. It is a corruption-free country, and is open to trade -- both important to the United States.
"They are eager to trade and have a lot to trade, but they also need a lot, including corn and soybeans," said Gordon.
With a rising average annual income among its residents, Chile is expected to increase its demand for high protein foods. That includes soybeans and livestock, from beef to pork and poultry.
"With their land mass, they can't produce enough," Gordon said.
While on the trip the group also toured a pork processing facility, which processes about 12,000 pigs per day. The plant is owned by AgroSuper, and is part of a fully integrated pork production system. The company rears 130,000 breeding sows and its nurseries wean approximately 8,000 pigs per day. AgroSuper finishes about 3.3 million pigs per year and operates two dedicated feed mills with capacities of 100,000 metric tons per month.
"AgroSuper is a major importer of our corn and soybeans due to dependability, quality and reliability, which says a lot for U.S. farmers," Gordon said.