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Dundee’s Salentiny travels to Malaysia, the Philippines to meet buyers of U.S. soybeans

Margie Salentiny (far right) was among four Minnesota soybean farmers to travel to Malaysia and the Philippines in March for an educational and leadership experience. (Special to The Globe)1 / 2
Minnesota soybean farmers toured soybean processing facilities during their visit to the Philippines and Malaysia last month (Special to The Globe)2 / 2

DUNDEE — A Dundee woman was among four Minnesota soybean farmers to travel to Malaysia and the Philippines last month on an international marketing and leadership experience through the Minnesota Soybean Research and Promotion Council.

Margie Salentiny, who with her husband, Steve, operate a family farm northeast of Dundee, in Murray County, experienced her first MSR&PC-sponsored trip to see how soybeans are processed and used in the Asian nations.

The 12-day trip, March 17-29, included visits with potential soybean buyers, tours of soybean processing facilities and a visit to an aquaculture operation, where processed soy is fed to the fish.

“We had a very full agenda,” Salentiny said. “We did go to the port and see where the (soybeans) came in and where they’re housed, and from there, where they’re processed into pellets and feed for poultry and pork.

“It was kind of wild to see aquaculture and the pellets and crumbles,” she added, noting the operation raised tilapia and milk fish.

The Minnesota contingent landed first in the Philippines for a series of tours. In addition to seeing soy processing businesses, it also visited a flour mill and pasta-making facility where spaghetti was being made.

A soy milk facility was also toured, where Salentiny said soymilk is added to milk to stretch the supply for consumers.

“It was a different product than I’ve had in the U.S. — it was smoother, creamier and richer. It was good, but I still like my milk,” she said. “We’re very lucky to live where we live. At the same time, they have access to fresh fruits, vegetables and fish. Their diet is different. It takes our protein to make protein in other countries.”

The soybean growers stayed with host families during their visit to Malaysia and then returned to Manilla, Philippines to attend a U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) Ag Supply Chain Asia Conference with representatives from several other Midwest states.  

Salentiny, a six-year board member and current secretary of the Murray County Corn and Soybean Growers, said the trip will be with her forever. Her goal in taking part was to better understand where U.S.-grown soybeans and soybean meal goes and how other countries use and process soybeans, and that is exactly what happened.

“If you don’t go over there and experience the culture and what goes on every day, you don’t understand the magnitude of what you’re dealing with,” Salentiny said. “(The experience) gave me better insight on how they live and what it is I can do to help them.”

Prior to the trip, Salentiny prepared a PowerPoint presentation that included photographs of her family farm. She showed the presentation to some of soybean buyers she met and discussed some of the concerns farmers in the U.S. have, such as weather impacts to the crop and markets.

“Right now there’s enough challenges,” she said. “A big factor I shared with them was the weather. It affects us during planting, the growing season and harvest. That’s universal.

“Also, family. In the Philippines, they’re very family-oriented. It was important they could see that we, too, value and love our families and we’re all involved in the farming. It’s a family operation, and it’s our livelihood. They could understand it’s our business and our passion.”

Salentiny said while trade issues were discussed, all understood that there are “so many layers” to the issue.

“We have the soybeans and we’re so happy and ready to ship them over, but there are so many governmental layers going on at the same time,” she said.

A few things surprised Salentiny during her travels, starting with the traffic.

On their first day in the Philippines, they had to be on the road at 5:30 a.m. to make a morning appointment.

“The traffic is unending — congested,” she said. “We would leave an hour or two to make an appointment, even if you were just going a couple of miles. Everybody allows everyone to move through traffic with just a honk of the horn, and semis are only allowed to run at certain times because it is so congested.”

During their visit to the port, they viewed a long line of trucks waiting just to get back onto the road system when they were allowed.

Salentiny was also overwhelmed by the population — 105 million in the Philippines, and more than half of them are ages 24 and younger.

“I enjoyed how friendly and how they were such a generous people,” she said. “They love our United States soybeans because they’re consistent. The product is a very high quality. We are very particular on how we grow them and how we process them and get them to market.”

Meeting face to face with buyers like those in Malaysia and the Philippines is important, Salentiny said.

Joining her on the trip were Christian Lilienthal, Arlington; Ben Storm, St. Charles; and MSR&PC Chair Patrick O’Leary, Benson. They were selected from a field of 30 applicants.

“It was a diverse group in where we farm in the state and how we farm,” Salentiny said. Soybean farmers in eastern Minnesota typically see their crop head toward the gulf, while soybeans produced in the western part of the state typically travel out from the Pacific Northwest.

Given the opportunity, Salentiny said she would love to participate in another educational trip.

“I realize if other farmers have the opportunity to go, it would really expand their knowledge and horizon on what’s going on in the world,” she said. “I think it’s really important for understanding.

“If we go over there and build these relationships, then we have the opportunity to know what is needed to meet those goals.”

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 The Farm Bleat

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