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Friday, May 29, 2009

Our Last Day in Asia

We began our last day on our trip throughout Vietnam and China in Hong Kong at the Dragon Boat Races Festival. The annual festival hosts many teams from across the area to race wooden row boats with carvings of dragon heads and tails. Each boat holds about twenty rowers and a drummer in the front of the boat. It was fun to see the excitement everyone had for this annual race and experience an important Chinese tradition first hand. The Dragon Boat Races Festival was a very enjoyable event and a great close to our tour.

After the Dragon Boat Races Festival, we went to a huge outlet mall in Hong Kong to spend the afternoon shopping. We ended our night with the light show at Victoria Harbor and a celebratory dinner at an Italian restaurant where we shared our most memorable experiences of the program. After dinner, we watched a power point presentation of photos and memories from the past two weeks. It truly was a wonderful last night overseas.

This trip has been a life changing experience for twelve students from across the United States. It is hard to believe that our time in Asia has already come to an end. However, I-CAL team members realize that their work with helping others understand international agriculture and trade is just beginning. After arriving back in the states, I-CAL team members will give presentations in their local communities to share what they have learned about international agriculture and trade.
Heather McLean – University of Tennessee at Martin
Londa Johnson – University of Wisconsin – River Falls

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

To the Peak of Asian Agriculture

After a satisfying breakfast in Guangzhou, we said goodbye to Sam Niu, from the U.S. Grains Council’s office in Beijing, before boarding the train for Hong Kong. We enjoyed the scenic two hour ride to Hong Kong, an administrative region of China.

Our first order of business in Hong Kong was meeting with Philip Shull of the U.S. Agricultural Trade Office and Joel Haggard with the U.S. Meat Export Federation. We discussed differences between the U.S. and Asia, specifically the importance of food in the Chinese language and culture. We also learned about agricultural trading opportunities that include opening up new export markets for the U.S. Digging deeper, we discussed red meat exports and why American beef is currently banned in China. The issue began in 2003 with a BSE scare. Even though there is no food safety concern with U.S. beef, it is still banned due in China. The ban on U.S. beef is partially a political decision due to the fact that the U.S. will not import cooked poultry from China.

But, don’t think that the Chinese don’t like U.S. beef. It has been noted that huge amounts of U.S. beef have recently been exported to Vietnam. This beef eventually makes its way across the Chinese border and restaurants in China can be seen advertising the fact that they serve U.S. beef. Hopefully, in the future trade agreements can be made so that U.S. beef can be exported directly into to China.

After our meeting, we took a tram up the steep mountainside to the top of “The Peak” which overlooks all of Hong Kong. We got a quick view of the harbor before the fog settled in. After some pictures, shopping and dinner, we took a bus down a winding road to a ferry. The ferry took us across the harbor and we walked back to our hotel.

We concluded the evening with a debriefing about the I-CAL program. We discussed all of the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats to Vietnamese and Chinese agriculture as well as America’s relationship with these countries. As I-CAL participants, we emphasized the importance of sharing our newly gained knowledge with others back at home. We can’t wait to share our new perspectives with you!

Kelly Moyer - Colorado State University
Brooke Jameson - North Dakota State University

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Going Hog Wild over DDGS

We began our day by visiting the Guangzhou Lizhi Agricultural Industry, a U.S. Grains Council partner swine farm. It was interesting to see and learn how the swine industry differs in China from the U.S. In the United States many producers specialize in a certain part of the growth process, whereas in China they are more geared toward farrow to finish. Chinese swine production is expanding due to government support programs even though they are currently losing money in the industry with supply issues and low prices. We found it very interesting to find out that even though China is the leading pork producer in the world, 50 percent of the pigs produced are by small, backyard farms (less than 50 head). The U.S. Grains Council has partnered with this farm in several key areas. Council programs have led to technological improvement, management development and increased knowledge about high quality feed ingredients. These improvements are helping Lizhi to reach their goal of 200,000 pigs produced per year.

In the afternoon we visited the Guangdong Haid Group Co., Ltd. This is a feed grains company with 20 subsidiary companies. They are currently one of the larger importers of U.S. DDGS and have attended the Council’s DDGS workshops, conferences and have participated in team visits to the United States. We met with them at their headquarters in Guangzhou and then traveled to one of their feed mills and research development sites. In the future the Haid Group, with the help of the Council, hopes to be the largest feed company in China.

Tomorrow we board a train in the morning to travel to Hong Kong where we will wrap up our journey to Asia.

Scott Henry - Iowa State University
Amber Phillips - University of Wyoming

Monday, May 25, 2009

We have arrived in Guangzhou!

This morning we got up early and flew from Beijing to Guangzhou which is located in the southern part of China. After the three-hour flight and some much needed sleep for the group, we checked into the China Hotel and grabbed some lunch. We ate at a traditional Chinese restaurant which we are all very much enjoying (minus the sardines…)

After lunch, we took our first venture in a Chinese taxi and went to the supermarket. The supermarket turned out to be similar to a grocery store you would find in the US. However, one difference we noticed was the large amount of employees. Every aisle had someone waiting to help you pick something off of the shelf. Another big difference we found was at the meat counter, where there was a much wider selection consisting of chicken feet, whole fish, turtle shells, and much more. In addition to a grocery store, we also found it to be a shopping mall. We all did some un-needed shopping before taking another first adventure on the subway back to the hotel.
For dinner we met with the Chinese Swine Management Team, which consists of nine producers and farm managers from all over China. Over some excellent Chinese cuisine, we discussed many areas of swine production in China. We learned that the pork industry has progressed rapidly over the last few years and continues to have a great outlook. When asked about the future of pork production in China, the team responded by saying that the outlook remains optimistic, but is dependent upon the government. We also discussed pork production in the U.S. as the team will be traveling to Iowa, Kansas and Indiana over the next two weeks. We gave them some great tips on where to find some great food and places to see.

We truly enjoyed our day and are happy to be in Guangzhou!

Andy Pringnitz – Iowa State University
Michelle Euken – Iowa State University

The Great Wall, Tombs, and Gold Medals – A Day of Touring

Our rest day began with touring the famous sights around Beijing. First stop was the Great Wall of China and it was truly breathtaking and we now understand why it is one of the Seven Wonders of the World. Our group enjoyed a gondola ride to the top of the mountain and was able to hike up and down the wall taking in the sights from numerous vantage points. It was amazing to be in such a historical place and imagine the country’s struggles and toils thousands of years ago.

After lunch, the Ming Tombs were our next stop. Once again we experienced a look back in time into Chinese culture and were amazed at the structures.

Finally, wrapped up the day with touring the Bird’s Nest and Water Cube where the 2008 World Olympics were held in Beijing. We were so excited to see up close what we all watched last August from our homes in the United States. We even came home with our very own gold medals!

Tomorrow we are on our way to Guangzhou to get back to touring agricultural facilities and meeting with some staff of the U.S. Grains Council.

Amy Berry, University of Wyoming
Sara Vandenbos, Utah State University

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Experiencing the Dairy Industry

To start our Saturday, we toured the Hua Xia Dairy (pronounced “Wa-Shaw”). This dairy is located about one hour East of Beijing in an agriculture industrial park. To begin the tour we met the operators of the dairy in their conference room for informational videos about the dairy. Following the videos we were able to ask questions and sample some “Wonder Milk.” Wonder Milk is the Hua Xia Dairy milk brand; it’s very good!

The Hua Xia group was established in 2004 by several entrepreneurs in California. They began their dairy operation in China with 180 Holsteins from New Zealand. They currently house 5,000 head of dairy cattle, and expect to reach 8,000 by the end of this year.

Computerized milking and feeding systems maximize feeding efficiency. They also produce all of their milk without the use of BST growth hormones or antibiotics. The dairy employs nearly 200 people, with 18 being veterinarians and 4 of those being AI specialists.

The biggest issue that they noted was the inconsistency of feed from local supply. They also mentioned problems with milk quality in China as a whole. Most operations are “backyard” where they do not have good operating procedures or pasteurization processes. After the initial briefing and video we took a tour of the farm. Then we returned to the conference room for Hua Xia Dairy ice cream; again, very good! The tour proved to be very interesting, and their procedures were just as good, if not more tedious, than dairy operations in the United States.
After the dairy we stopped to grab lunch at an authentic Chinese restaurant, which served donkey. We discovered our liking of donkey was better than expected. We also experienced the chance to become Chinese paparazzi. We were obviously one of the very few American groups to stop in.

We were then on our way to practice our bartering skills again at the pearl market. We all were able to walk away with some good bargains. From the pearl market we honed our skills at the silk market. One word to describe this market was “chaos.” Five levels of enthusiastic entrepreneurs, eagerly attempting to sell us their goods! To say the least, our stress levels were maxed out as we tried to make our purchases.

After our afternoon at the markets, we traveled to a local downtown Chinese restaurant for dinner. We then returned to the hotel to get an evening of relaxing sleep. We are all excited for the adventures that lay ahead tomorrow as we travel to the Great Wall, Ming Tomb, the Olympic Stadium, and the Water Cube!

Ashley Mason – University of Western Illinois
Emilie Magnus – Kansas State University

Friday, May 22, 2009

Expanding Our Horizons in Beijing

Friday, May 22 brought new knowledge of international trade and marketing. The first full day in Beijing began at the U.S. Grains Council Office. This office is located in the China World Tower. Cary Sifferath, Director of USGC-China Office, started the morning with an overview of corn production and USGC programs such as DDGS promotion, trade servicing, and trade policy. An interesting fact that Mr. Sifferath shared was that an estimated ninety percent of corn harvested in China is done by hand. He also mentioned that no GMO corn is produced in China. We also learned that U.S. DDGS, a corn byproduct, is imported and used in livestock feeds. A main focus of the USGC is to increase demand for DDGS by building the Chinese swine and dairy industry by encouraging commercial growth and providing training to producers. In addition, Mr. Sifferath explained that the Chinese government has discontinued the growth of the Chinese ethanol industry due to the increasing population and need for corn in the food supply.

Phillip Laney, China Country Director for American Soybean Association (ASA), provided the team with some valuable insight about the Chinese soybean market and U.S. soybean trade. It was interesting to learn that China is the number one importer of U.S. soybeans. All imported U.S. soybeans are used for livestock production. This solid Chinese market has already imported 680,509 million bushels of U.S. soybeans since September 1, 2008. Mr. Laney also talked about how ASA is working to increase the demand for U.S. soybeans by working closely with the aquaculture industry. The aquaculture industry is rapidly growing in China and by working with aquaculture producers, ASA is hoping to further increase the demand for U.S. soybeans.

Finally, a representative from U.S. Wheat Associates-China Office provided information about the wheat industry in China. Currently, imports of U.S. wheat in China are basically non-existent due to the increased price of U.S. wheat and sufficient production of Chinese wheat. An interesting fact that we learned was that popular U.S. fast food chains are rapidly increasing in China. From 2005 to 2008, Papa John’s Pizza restaurant had a 594 percent growth in China.
After this educational morning, we ventured to Louis Dreyfus Commodities Company for a tour of a soybean crushing facility. Mr. Alex Dong, General Manager, gave us an overview of the company and its history. He also shared valuable information about the China commodities market. The Louis Dreyfus plant began production of soybean oil and meal in 2007. Currently the plant imports about 500,000 tons of U.S. soybeans per year. Mr. Dong also gave us a tour of the plant and explained how soybean meal and soybean oil is produced at the plant.

To finish off the day, the team ate at a traditional Chinese restaurant. Each day our chopstick skills improve a bit, but we still have a long way to go. After dinner everyone had the chance to have a little taste of home with Coldstone Creamery ice cream.

Londa Johnson - Senior, University of Wisconsin-River Falls
Heather McLean - Graduate Student, University of Florida

Arrival in China and Peking Duck

The transition from Wednesday to Thursday was a little blurry for the I-CAL team as we left our hotel for the airport at 1:00 AM on Thursday morning without having a chance to sleep. At the airport, we had to say our last goodbyes to Adel and Chien, our U.S. Grains Council representatives. It was hard to say goodbye because we ha d such a great time with them for the past 2 days! They did such a fabulous job of educating us about the U.S. Grains Council’s role in Vietnam and Vietnamese agriculture in general. We boarded our Air China flight at 3:40 AM and headed for China. This was our opportunity to finally catch some shut-eye.

Upon arriving in Nanning, China, just north of the Vietnamese border, we went through the security customs and health inspection point. While the majority of us moved through immigration with no problems, we realized that Londa had suddenly disappeared. Apparently the infrared system, used to measure body temperature, indicated that she had a higher than normal temperature. After being escorted to an examination room, a man entered, put on a doctor’s coat and latex gloves, and took her temperature. While he was scribbling notes away in Chinese and reading a manual where the only English words on it were “Swine Flu”, Londa felt her body temperature naturally rising due to the fear of possibly being quarantined in China. Turns out, her temperature was 36.6°C and she was thankfully released. Londa said, “I was scared and didn’t want to be quarantined in China. I don’t like it that much!”

Even with the holdup in customs, we were able to catch our connecting flight to Beijing, and safely arrived in the afternoon. After a satisfying Pizza Hut lunch, which lacked the exotic flair of the other cuisine we’ve experienced on our trip thus far, we headed to Tiananmen Square with U.S. Grains Council representative, Rachel. Tiananmen Square is the heart of the old city that includes Tiananmen Tower, the Great Hall of the People, the Monument to People’s Heroes, and Mao Zedong Memorial Hall. You’re probably most familiar with this name because of the 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, where hundreds of student protestors were killed by the Chinese Army. Today it was pretty low key and scattered with tourists. Being able to see something in person, that has graced the pages of so many textbooks, was very cool.

Tiananmen Square is located directly in front of the Forbidden City, which we had the opportunity to tour as well. The Forbidden City is an Imperial Palace where 24 emperors reigned for over 500 years. The construction of this massive complex, which happens to be the largest in the world, began in 1407 and it includes 9,999 rooms that are surrounded by a 6 meter deep moat and a 10 meter high wall. The whole group felt overwhelmed by the size and detailed intricacy of the many palaces.

After freshening up, we met with the U.S. Grains Council staff from the China office for a Peking Duck dinner. Peking Duck is a local favorite traditional dish that ALL of us really enjoyed. In addition to duck, we ate a variety of “real” Chinese food. The whole meal was delicious and we all left happy and content as well as more aware of what the U.S. Grains Council is currently doing in China. During dinner we had the opportunity to discuss the basics of agriculture, government, and education in China with the staff. It’s safe to say, we all had a great time and are excited to meet with the U.S. Grains Council staff tomorrow morning to learn more about the specific U.S. agricultural products’ roles in China.

Brooke Jameson – North Dakota State University
Kelly Moyer – Colorado State University

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Milling Around

Our second day went well. We ate a great breakfast with Michael Riedel and Tran Quoc Quan, both with the USDA. Mike works with the Foreign Agriculture Service and gave us a great overview of his position here in Saigon for the FAS. He began by telling us that U.S. exports to Vietnam last year totaled over $1 billion. This is due to the increase in disposable income that the Vietnamese people have. With more disposable income comes and increase in protein/meat intake. There has been an increase in chicken imports in Vietnam from the U.S. These chicken imports include the cheaper cuts such as drumsticks. There has also been an increase in beef consumption (exported from the U.S.), primarily in the nicer hotels, etc. He pointed out that there are still imports barriers on U.S. beef to Vietnam such as the beef must be less than 30 months of age. He is here in Vietnam to help work on trade agreements and he is a liaison with the USDA in Washington D.C. about trade with Vietnam and Cambodia. He also talked about the FAEA (Food and Agriculture Export Administration) and the importance of the FAEA and U.S. Grains Council in showing local producers how they can benefit from things such as the U.S. DDGS. After breakfast we loaded onto the bus and traveled to the Interflour Port towards the south of Vietnam. This port will be one of the first that can handle Panamax ships. Due to this and poor infrastructure, the port in Saigon will be closed at the end of this month because the port is no longer deep enough and there is too much congestion with all of the water traffic and traffic in downtown Saigon. At the Interflour Port on the Ti Vi River, we met with Jim Eckle who outlined the development of the mill and port and the surrounding area. The silos can hold 90,000 metric tons of wheat. The first of June, the first Panamax ship will arrive. This port will only be for agricultural products. The original port had two unloaders that could unload 200 tons/hour and the new unloaders will be able to do 1200 tons/hour. They are also building two new truck bays that will be able to load/unload 40 tons in 15 minutes. The current problem for U.S. exporters is that there are not enough containers to ship things back to Asia. Also, due to the lack of containers, this year no soybean meal was exported to Vietnam where as last year 90,000 tons was exported to Vietnam. After a delicious lunch at the port and mill, we traveled back towards Saigon. On the way we experienced rubber trees and hammocks! We also tasted fruits of many tastes, shapes and smells (all while playing with crabs)! This evening we shopped at a local market, learned how to barter and ate dinner at the Rex (a local GI hangout during the Vietnam War) with U.S. Grains Council staff from this area.
The U.S. Grains Council plays an important role in Vietnam by talking to producers on small, personal level about the potential implementation of U.S. feed grains in the livestock and aquaculture sectors. We were unable to see a swine farm due to the swine flu, but we learned that the main focus of U.S. Grains Council in Vietnam is the swine industry because it is growing rapidly. Government and high demand is leading to very high profits for swine producers ($65-$70/ pig net) and the USGC is competing with local grain options to improve quality of feed thru imports of U.S. grains. We leave at 3:40 AM this morning (Thursday) for Beijing where the adventures and learning will continue…

Scott Henry - Iowa State University
Amber Phillips - University of Wyoming

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Arrival in Asia

We arrived in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam late on Monday night after a layover in Hong Kong. Upon arrival, we could already feel the humidity but were excited to step foot on Asian soil and begin our adventure.

After a short night of sleep and a great breakfast featuring signature Vietnamese food at the hotel, we began our day by taking a boat ride down one of the many canals connecting to the Mekong River. We took the boat about two hours up river to our first stop, a local fish farm. At this stop, the importance of aquaculture was extremely evident. Aquaculture is the second largest agricultural industry in the country, trailing only swine production. Since 2006, there has been a big boom in fish farming, and it has created over 100,000 jobs.One of the things we observed at the local fish farm was that they have started to include U.S. DDGS in their feed ration. The U.S. Grains Council has done a great deal of work to make the feeding of DDGS a reality. We learned more about these efforts to include DDGS in fish feed rations by visiting Vinh Hoan, the 2nd largest fish feed mill in Vietnam. The U.S. Grains Council has been conducting a feed trial at this facility to answer producers' questions about how DDGS will affect the quality of their fish. Through this feed trial, they have discovered that including DDGS in the ration does not cause a discoloration in the meat, and it increases feed intake by 150%. Including DDGS in the fish feed ration at a 15% inclusion rate has proven to be very cost effective for the producer.

We very much enjoyed our first full day in Vietnam and have already learned so much. We are looking forward to tomorrow when we will see Interflour Port and experience the local market place.

Michelle Euken, Iowa State University
Andy Prignitz, Iowa State University