Foreign business leaders visit N.D. to learn about soybeans, specialty crops

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CASSELTON, N.D. - SB&B Foods has been working for years to sell soybeans in China.

"It certainly presents a great opportunity," said Todd Sinner, the soybean processing company's vice president and an owner partner. "It's a large market and we need to make sure that we have the right pieces in place when it does open."

SB&B has been selling soybeans to other Asian buyers for more than 25 years, but is not yet in China because Sinner said government regulations make it more challenging to export soybeans there.

"It's really just assuring not only the China buyer, but the China government, the officials, that our food is safe," he said.

The soybeans are tested and inspected here in the United States, but China does not yet accept those testing methods and certificates. The soybeans are also tested in China and if they don't pass, the seller is stuck with the product and shipping costs.

"It adds a little bit more risk to the supplier," Sinner said. "Fortunately, we do have other markets nearby that we could tranship, but at a cost."

He hopes business trips to China and reverse trade missions, where business leaders visit North Dakota to learn how our crops are grown and processed, will help build relationships that could lead to business deals.

"It's certainly an important market that we're paying attention to and developing relationships in," he said. "We know that it's a long-term process and we're certainly investing in that."

Delegations from China, other Asian countries and Colombia recently visited the Red River Valley. One Chinese delegation focused on the state's specialty crops. The other was interested in non-GMO soybeans.

"The food-grade soybean supply in China is decreasing, but the demand is increasing," said Yuefang Wu of China Soy Foods Association, through a translator. "The main purpose of this trip is to understand the soy food, the non-GMO soy food industry in the United States."

Some have visited the state before, but most of the delegates were a new group of potential buyers from China, said Dean Gorder, North Dakota Trade Office executive director.

"The single largest buyer, importer of food anywhere in the world is the country of China," he said. "Their middle class is growing. Their need for secure food sources is growing and North Dakota as a state and all the companies producing these products need to be a part of that."

Buyers from Indonesia, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Japan and Sri Lanka toured farms and elevators in Colfax and Casselton to learn about buying soybeans for livestock feed.

And Colombian delegates were here to learn about specialty crops and pulse ingredients like peas, beans, lentils and confectionary sunflowers. They learned about using the ingredients at the Northern Crops Institute in Fargo. They also visited several North Dakota agribusinesses.

"Many times, the actual sales occur when we get them back to North Dakota," Gorder said. "They see the quality of the people, the quality of the product, the nice, clean air. All of the things that are good about North Dakota really resonate with the buyer so it raises the likelihood of deals being concluded significantly."

The Chinese government is also starting to consider easing restrictions on importing non-genetically modified products, Gorder said.

"Currently, they have a zero tolerance policy for any genetic traits and they're starting to modify that approach, so that's a benefit to North Dakota exporters," he said. "We met with the head of their quarantine service about three years ago and he made a statement that when demand exceeds supply, the rules will change."

The Chinese and Colombian reverse trade missions were organized through the North Dakota Trade Office, Northern Crops Institute, Northern Pulse Growers, Northarvest Bean Association, North Dakota Soybean Council and North Dakota State University.

The Soybean Council also hosted the delegation interested in soybeans for livestock feed.