ATLANTA, Ga. - For many of the participants in the Minnesota Soybean Growers Research and Promotion Council's See For Yourself (SFY) program, the highlight of the week-long mission trip was meeting international buyers of U.S. soybeans and soybean products.
From visiting with a Chinese delegation over lunch on Tuesday in New Orleans, La., to conversations with buyers from Iraq, Egypt and Turkey during a Thursday evening reception in Atlanta, Ga., Minnesota soybean farmers learned how important their product is to the world's consumers.
"It was a great success," said Lawrence Sukalski, a rural Fairmont farmer and national director for the American Soybean Association. "I feel this is really important to build relationships."
Sukalski, who also serves on the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association (MSGA) board, said international buyers of U.S. soybeans want to meet the farmers behind the product. Foreign buyers did just that during meetings with the 23 Minnesota participants on the SFY mission.
"Some of the farmers got asked if they could sell their beans personally (to) those people," Sukalski said. "Obviously, that would be pretty difficult. They want to do business with somebody they know."
And with many friendships forming during the receptions, it is the hope that MSGA, ASA and the United States Soybean Export Council will be the go-to organizations for international soybean buyers.
In Atlanta Thursday night, Dr. Mohamed Sherif was getting to know the Minnesota soybean farmers and explaining their country's future needs for soybeans.
"Egypt does produce grains like corn, wheat and a little soybeans, but all in small quantities," he said, adding that nearly all of the corn for livestock feed is imported, in addition to 1.6 million tons of soybeans.
"As much as 80 percent of our beans come from the USA," Sherif said, adding that the country's poultry industry is dependent on imports and Egyptian crushing operations to meet demand. Sherif is regional technical director for the American Soybean Association's International Marketing division.
"Even in an economic crisis, the poultry industry has grown by 4- to 5 percent this year," he said. "We have a growing population - it's expected to grow from 80 million to 105 million in the next five years. The poultry industry has to keep growing. We don't have enough land to grow livestock feeds, so we have to continue imports."
Magdy El Sebaee, a feed mill operator in Cairo, Egypt, said most of the soybeans imported are crushed and used in production agriculture. His feed mill can process up to 60 tons per hour, operating three production lines - one for the cattle industry, one for poultry and the third for aquiculture (Tilapia production).
In Turkey, where the population growth has far exceeded the growth in the agricultural industry, Ayhan Kindap said they are importers of both U.S.-grown soybeans and soybean meal. Last year, the country imported approximately 70 percent to 80 percent of its soybean products from the United States.
"Turkey imports approximately 1.3 million tons yearly, of which, 900,000 tons are soybeans and 400,000 tons are soybean meal," said Kindap, who is in charge of raw materials for Charoen Pokphand Standart's operations in Istanbul, Turkey.
However, imports are currently on hold with the U.S. due to issues over genetically-modified (GMO) crops.
"A new biosecurity law is being prepared and, in a few months, will be passed in the Parliament," Kindap said. "That will regulate GMO product importation. The Turkish government will require gene producers to apply to Turkey to have a license to sell to Turkey. Since soybeans is a must product, we don't think there will be serious problems."
For the Iraqi contingent, the visit to the International Poultry Expo in Atlanta wasn't as much about importing products as it was making connections with American suppliers of equipment.
Since 2003, the country has depended heavily on imports, but the desire is to be self-sustaining, said Khasaki Yasir, one of 25 people who traveled from Baghdad, Iraq, for the expo.
"Most farmers depend on imported vegetables and fruits, but the Iraqi consumers will always prefer Iraqi products because it's well known for its quality," said Yasir.
Jan Hussein, commercial manager for Wady Al-Arz Co., in Baghdad, said he was most interested in some of the technology on display at the expo, including poultry processing equipment.
"There's a lot of potential and I hope we get the most of our visit to the Expo," said Hussein. "We saw so much technologies that we didn't even know (existed)."
The International Poultry Expo wrapped up Friday afternoon in Atlanta, and the Iraqi contingent had planned to stay in the U.S. through this week to meet with agricultural industry groups.