I-LEAD Heads to Washington, D.C.

July 13, 2010

Sure it’s hot and humid here, but the I-LEAD class has been making the most of our time during our week-long trip to Washington, D.C. We kicked off our activities on Monday, July 12 with a trip to Maryland and Delaware. We started the day at the Queen Anne’s County Welcome Center, followed by a visit to the Wye Research and Education Center to view the historic Wye Angus cattle herd research farm at Queenstown, MD.

Then it was off to the Nagel/Cawley farm to view a cucumber operation. We watched the crew harvest cucumbers, and then we had a chance to tour the cucumber grading facility where the cukes were sorted and shipped to customers ranging from small local buyers to the Vlassic pickle company.

Then we headed to Church Hill, MD, to tour the vineyard and winery at the Cassianelli Vineyard. This is a high-stakes business, with investments ranging up to $750,000 or more, and an average of seven to 10 years for the operation to turn a profit. After viewing the vineyard, we enjoyed sampling the wines.

Next we stopped by family-owned and operated dairy near the winery. We learned about their sand bedding system, the farm’s manure management system, the farm’s milking system and more.

We ended the day with a great barbecue meal at the 4-H Park in Centreville, MD. We also got to spend time with an I-LEAD-style group from Ontario, Canada, not only at dinner in the evening but again the next morning. We kicked off these meetings with a very interesting presentation from Michael Dykes of Monsanto, who shared his perspectives on the opportunities and challenges in ag in the years ahead.

Now we’re registered for the National Corn Growers Association’s (NCGA) Corn Congress here at the Capitol Hilton Hotel. After we sit in on the NCGA committee meetings, it’s off to dinner at Fogo De Chao, a Brazilian steakhouse, followed by a 2.5-hour nighttime trolley tour of Washington, D.C. and the monuments.

On Wednesday we head to Capitol Hill to meet with lawmakers. More to come!

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Wrapping up Vietnam

March 21, 2010

It has been a busy few days for the I-LEAD Class as they have had a chance to view the emerging economy of Vietnam.

On Friday, they took a ride up the MeKong Delta to visit the Interflour Port.  Interflour Vietnam began production with an initial milling capacity of 500MT of wheat per day.  It’s facilities include wheat silos, finished product warehouse and a dedicated deep draft port, with wheat unloading facilities capabilities of discharging about 10,000MT per day.  A significant expansion of the terminal, is currently underway, and will make Interflour’s operation the most advanced grain and grain products terminal in the country.  The expansion consists of lengthening and strengthening the currently jetty to enable it to take up to two Panamax-size vessels at any one time.  Additional storage is also being constructed to include facilities for soybean meal, wheat and corn.

Saturday was spent on the countryside visiting with Vietnamese corn and hog farmers.  The Class enjoyed being able to take time to meet with them and see production practices.  An average corn farmer owns about 1-2 acres of land and all the fieldwork is still done by hand.  The Class was also able to view a 200 sow farrow to finish hog operation and talk with the farmer.  On Saturday, the class was also able to visit a local wet market. 

Today the class had the opportunity to visit the Cu Chi tunnels.  They were constructed during the Vietnam war by the Viet Cong and were used to attack the Americans.

Right now the class is preparing to leave to head back to the U.S.  They will leave for the airport at 3 a.m. Monday morning in Vietnam (3 p.m. on Sunday afternoon in Iowa).  It has been a great trip!


Aquaculture Thrives in Vietnam

March 19, 2010

Thursday was feed and aquaculture day here in Vietnam for the I-LEAD class.  We started off the day with a tour of the Green Feed Company, which produces thousands of tons of feed for pork, poultry, and aquaculture each year. Green Feed is one of the top 10 largest feed mills in Vietnam, and the company sources ingredients from the United States, India, South America, and Europe. They use cassava, rice bran, corn, DDGs, soybean meal, wheat, coconut meal, fishmeal and more.

The company is growing and expects its feed production to increase 15% a year. We saw some sites OSHA wouldn’t approve of, including barefoot guys with no shirts loading feed bags in the feed mill. These workers make about $80 to $100 a month.

Next we headed out for a boat tour on the Mekong River. We stopped at a fish farm that produces hybrid tilapia. It takes six months to raise a fish from the fingerling stage to about 1 kilogram, when the fish are marketed. The fish are sold live to the market. During our tour, the generous farmerers served us coconut juice from fresh coconuts! 

Finally we toured the Vihn Quang Fish Processing Co., one of the largest traders of fish in Vietnam. Its main products are frozen cuttle fish, squid, and other seafood, including pangasius fish. The plant’s process is similar to a livestock harvesting facilty. The plant depends heavily on human labor, with a few hundred people processing fish in some of the rooms.

Today is Friday here in Vietnam, and we’re getting ready to head out to the Interflour Port. Talk to you soon!



Vietnam Offers Dynamic Market Opportunities

March 17, 2010

Greetings from Vietnam!

Boy, is it warm here. It’s about 95 degrees and humid, so it feels like Iowa around state fair time. After our plane touched down this afternoon, we hit the ground running with a few meetings to bring us up to speed on agriculture in Vietnam.

* As a developing country, Vietnam offers a wealth of market opportunities for U.S. grain. Michael Riedel from the USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service noted that U.S. exports of ag products to Vietnam in 2009 totaled $1.05 billion, a 3% increase compared to 2008. Grain was a big part of this increase.

* In early March, Vietnam received its largest single shipment of soybean meal when a 48,000-ton supermax vessel lined up by Bunge arrived.

* Vietnam, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and the Philippines are the United States’ 5th largest trading partner. In addition, Southeast Asia is the world’s 4th largest feed market.

* Vietnam, where only 13% of the country’s land is arable and is mainly used to grow rice, has one of the fatest urbanization rates in the world and a growing demand for meat protein. Ag officials with the U.S. Grains Council noted that Asia can be a big market for dairy, beef, pork, and poultry. They also stressed that the United States needs to sign a trade agreement to pave the way for this economic opportunity.

* The next big demand point for U.S. grains and DDGs is aquaculture. We look forward to taking a tour by boat down the Mekong River on Thursday to see Vietnamese aquaculture up close.

More to come!

I-LEAD class IV


Made it to Veitnam!

March 17, 2010

The I-LEAD class has made there way to Vietnam.  This evening they will be treated to a “Welcome to Siagon” dinner after a briefing about Vietnam agriculture.

Happy St. Paddy’s day to all those back in the states!


Our Take on Current Ag Issues in Korea

March 16, 2010

Greetings from I-LEAD class IV!

We’ve had a busy two days around Seoul meeting with a variety of ag officials, touring a port, and more:

* On Monday we met with officials from the Ag Trade Office of Korea to get a general overview of Korea’s agricultural markets. Then we headed off to meet with the Korean Feed Association and Nonghyup Feed Inc. (NOFI). These grain buyers and grain industry leaders had a lively dialogue with us about the quality of the 2009 corn crop, and we tried to learn more about their grain needs.

* Some of the U.S. corn that is imported into Korea is used for swine feed. When we met with the Korea Swine Association (KSA) on Monday afternoon, we learned that per capita pork consumption in Korea has been increasing since 2005, because beef is expensive, Koreans are eating less rice and more meat, and bacon is extremely popular in Korea. The KSA believes pork consumption in Korea will continue to increase, which offers opportunities for U.S. pork. We ended the day with a pork dinner hosted by Darby Genetics. There was plenty of great food and good laughs, and our Korean hosts had as much fun as we did!

* On Tuesday morning we continued to learn more about the issues surrounding U.S. meat products in Korea. We met with representatives from the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF), who informed us that there are many challenges facing U.S. beef in Korea. Following the BSE case in the United States in 2003, Korean consumers have been extremely leery of U.S. beef and believe it is not safe. In fact, more than a million participants (including moms, teenagers, and average citizens) participated in a candlelight demonstration in 2009 to protest U.S. beef. These consumers believe (falsely) that there are a large number of BSE contaminated cattle across the United States. To reassure Korean consumers about the safety and quality of U.S. Beef, the USMEF has launched a “Beef Story” campaign, complete with print ads, television commercials and more, to help drive demand for U.S. beef.

* To see U.S. beef in the Korean marketplace, we traveled to a butcher shop and toured a Costco store to see how U.S. beef is priced and how it is marketed, compared to the main competitors: Korean beef and Australian beef. At the butcher shop, we also saw how consumers could use their Web-enabled cell phones to scan a bar code on the meat packages to see where and when the U.S. beef was produced.

* In the afternoon, we headed to the massive Incheon port to learn more about what happens to U.S. grain that is shipped to Korea. The port, which has 48 sets of concrete silos with a total storage capacity of 150,000 metric tons, can unload a large ship full of grain in about 2.5 days. To round out the day, we enjoyed supper at Sunheung-gol, where we were served food made from the pork rib cut.

It’s hard to believe, but our time is Korea is nearly over, and we fly to Vietnam on Wednesday. Watch for more details soon!



DMZ Tour

March 15, 2010

On Sunday the I-LEAD class was able to take a trip to the DMZ between North and South Korea.  It was quite an experience to be informed that our bus had just passed under a tank trap as we headed up the highway out of Seoul. The tank traps are billboards over the highway that are fully loaded with dynamite that could be detonated at a moment’s notice to block the road and limit traffic access into Seoul.

The DMZ encompasses 4 kilometers of demilitarized space between North and South Korea. Despite the cease-fire in the 1950s, North Korea still made attempts to cross the DMZ in underground tunnels. The tunnels we toured were small and cramped but able to send more than 30,000 troops per hour to Seoul. Four of those tunnels have been found to date, with the most recent discovered in 1990. Our entire group trekked down through one of the tunnels, which turned out to be quite a workout, but well worth the effort!

We also visited the northernmost observation point where we could see North Korea and look at the guard towers and Propoganda Village.

We ended the day by returning to Seoul and touring one of the city’s busy shopping districts and market areas.

Watch for more updates soon!