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Trade team from Thailand stops at local farms

Brian Korthals/Daily Globe Host and Minnesota Soybean state board member Matt Widboom (left) explains some aspects of his cattle operation to members of a delegation from Thailand Wednesday afternoon at the John Widboom farm north of Worthington.

WORTHINGTON -- Standing among rows of waist-high soybeans in a field north of Worthington late Wednesday afternoon, a trio of representatives from Chavoen Pokphand (CP) in Thailand and China saw for themselves just how American soybeans are faring this year.

They had been hearing reports for months that crop yields may not be as high as farmers here hoped for, and according to Olan Ocharoen, deputy general manager for CP Thailand, they wanted to make their own assessment of the crop.

CP, which employs approximately 400,000 workers, purchased roughly 40 percent of the 300,000 metric tons of soybeans imported by Thailand in 2010.

The country also imports 80,000 metric tons of soybean meal and 100,000 tons of distiller's dried grains (DDGs).

"We buy the raw material from you -- soybeans, soybean meal and DDGs," Ocharoen said. "We were kind of curious about the crop conditions in the USA. We had heard that the crop doesn't look good, which in part is true."

The trade team is in the final leg of its three-week tour of the Midwest, which began in Illinois and included stops in Indiana, Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa.

Minnesota Soybean Growers Association board members Matt Widboom and Bill Gordon were among the Nobles County farmers to welcome the Thais to the state.

The John Widboom farm was actually their first Minnesota stop. There, they viewed the cattle finishing operation and looked over the feedstuffs. Additional plans for the late afternoon and evening included seeing a track tractor, touring New Vision Cooperative's fertilizer plant and enjoying an evening steak fry at the Gordon farm.

While in the soybean field, Matt Widboom talked of how area farmers received about 18 inches of rain in June and July, and until this week, had experienced a lengthy dry spell.

Widboom said hosting trade delegations from foreign countries is "extremely important."

"The animal industry is still our biggest user of our product, but we have to be able to find ways to market crops locally as well as globally," he said. "It's a chance for us to sell ourselves -- to show them we are family businesses that take pride in what we grow."

Boonchai Pihtayanukul, senior vice president for CP China, said the visit to the Midwest allowed them to "hear the real thing" from farmers about this year's crop. He works for CP's feed mill that serves approximately 70 companies. With U.S. soybeans selling for $14 per bushel, he, too, is concerned about supply.

Overall, the trio enjoyed their visit and being able to see the crops for themselves.

"I think we have met a lot of people from different companies and a lot of interesting farmers," said Songpoom Thitipunya, a corn researcher and crop surveyor for CP Thailand.

Certainly, the farms they toured in the Midwest are considerably different from those back in Thailand.

"Farmers in Thailand only have about an acre," said Ocharoen. "They don't have sufficient finance, they don't have good machines."

Brittany Nussbaum, who works in marketing for the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, said hosting trade team delegations like the trio from Thailand helps build relationships between the farmers and those who buy their product.

"We talk about how we are growing our crops responsibly with good management practices," she said. "We get to know their needs and what they're looking for."

One of every four rows of soybeans grown in Minnesota is exported.

Julie Buntjer

Julie Buntjer joined the Globe newsroom in December 2003, after working more than nine years for weekly newspapers. A native of Worthington, she has a bachelor's degree in agriculture journalism. Find more of her stories of farm life, family and various other tidbits at

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