Journal from China

A Story from the Land

SfL Co-Chair Fred Yoder’s Journal from China: A Two-Week Visit to Share Sustainable Land Management Ideas

Solutions from the Land (SfL) Co-Chair Fred Yoder took a two-week National Association of Farm Broadcasters (NAFB) agriculture and marketing trip to China, sharing SfL principles with the leaders there. Read along with Fred’s journey!

Saturday – June 23, 2018

Fred’s crops are in the ground. Time for travel!

Today we visited an aquaculture farm just outside of Shanghai. We learned of a new technology developed by Auburn University and sponsored by the United States Soybean Export Council (USSEC) that could increase fish productivity by feeding a mix of 50 percent soybean meal and combining it with a system of constantly filtered moving water. Clean water is a major concern for the people of Shanghai since their population is over 25 million people, at least one and a half times more than New York City on less land. Old systems are very hard to keep the water clean, and have to be drained and cleaned after each batch of fed fish, where the new system actually improves the water as it is used, and eliminates its constant replacement. China is very concerned and working hard to improve their water quality while becoming more efficient in feeding their people. Their new systems of aquaculture will be revolutionary in improving the environment and at the same time demonstrate sustainable food production, a win/win, which is exactly what SfL’s principles are all about.

Tomorrow is a travel day to Beijing. We’ll have more next week. Stay tuned.


Sunday – June 24, 2018

Rush hour is familiar all over the world. In 2017, Beijing reported it planned to use gasoline containing 10% ethanol nationally by 2020.

Our day today was mostly a travel day from Shanghai to Beijing. It was a 6-hour train ride with lots of time to get to know each other. Interestingly, in talking to our tour guides, I learned a lot about Chinese culture when it comes to marriage and family values.

The family structure is very important to the Chinese culture, and it is stressed you should marry and be successful. In fact, they even call it “the marriage economy” since if you are single you need to demonstrate your willingness to work hard and obtain housing if you want to find a proper mate, and also to have children since the one-child rule has been relaxed.

One thing that has changed, however, is the perception of success in the business world. The millennial generation looks at things a little different than their baby-boomer parents. Rather than focus entirely on making a good living, the younger generation is very much concerned about the stress of business models on the environment. Clean air and water are very much a focus as they make their way through the business world. New business structures must include ecosystem services as well as productivity. Here in Beijing the air is very dirty at times, causing some discomfort on heavy pollution days. This is not acceptable to the millennial, and they are very focused on ways to clean up the air, such as adding bioethanol to their gasoline. There will be additional changes in the near future to ensure their new families can breathe easier and continue to do things better.

More tomorrow…

Monday – June 25, 2018

African Orphan Crops

Ambassador Terry Branstad is an Iowa native and former governor.

Today we met with Ambassador Terry Branstad and his staff. We learned firsthand of the difficulties they are facing as they negotiate through the Chinese trade dispute. The rest of our group, the farm broadcasters, were finally able to join us after their ordeal of getting their visas approved as US journalists. They had spent 3 days in Los Angeles waiting for approval to enter the country.

China is the US’s most important trade partner. It is run by the Communist Party, which is able to execute things in a manner that the US cannot. They believe they can weather a trade war better than us, and we think just the opposite. But it is hard to believe anyone wins with additional tariffs placed on goods and services. The US has dug in to obtain fundamental change because the situation has been getting worse. The problem is US Agriculture is the low hanging fruit: the only real trade example with a US surplus. China needs both plant and animal protein for a rapidly expanding middle class. The US needs market access because of our ability to produce much more than we can use domestically. Both sides recognize that we need each other. Privately, both sides want a resolution. It will be a matter of threading the needle to give everyone a win publicly. We are very fortunate to have Ambassador Branstad represent us in this challenge. No one has a better relationship with China, and he understands US agriculture better than almost anyone. Let’s hope we get this right.

We topped off our day with a visit to the Great Wall. How impressive it is that something like this still exists after thousands of years? We can appreciate and admire it for the brilliance it represents of a people long ago.


Tuesday – June 26, 2018

Today we toured an egg farm and processing plant outside of Beijing. It was quite massive, and very modern with robots and sorting capabilities that were state of the art. Interestingly, right beside the chicken facility was a crocodile breeding farm. The retired layers were fed to the crocodiles, thus creating a high value product from what was left in the chicken. The Chinese people are very much in tune with accelerating productivity.

Later we visited a Syngenta research facility. We learned that since Syngenta is now wholly owned by ChemChina, or the Peoples Republic of China in real terms, there may be different outcomes than it would have been if Syngenta had remained a publicly owned company. There can be different perspectives as we think about China buying out an American tech company lock stock and barrel, or the fact that the Chinese people will now be better equipped to accept new biotech traits and genomic editing techniques since it is their own country that is developing the events. China very much is focused on feeding their people, and this purchase will go a long way to make that a reality. And, there will be opportunities for the American farmer to take advantage of their research and buy their products as well. Developing agricultural products that take less inputs and water will no doubt help in our quest in becoming more sustainable while increasing productivity as well.

More to come…

African Orphan Crops

Wednesday – June 27, 2018

Today was a travel day to Xian, which is about 1000 miles southwest of Beijing. It was a two-hour flight with a two-hour bus ride.


The Weiyang Road Interchange, seen from the air, is a dramatic sight in the Weiyang district in Xian.

While enjoying the company of the group, we have had some fabulous food to dine on. It made me think about China’s views on food, which may be slightly different than ours in the United States. Years ago, Chairman Mao commanded the people of China to not be wasteful. Food left after a meal was to be packaged up and saved for the next meal, eliminating waste. The Chinese are very focused on their food.

This has reminded me of SfL’s project in Ohio, called “Ohio Smart Agriculture: Solutions from the Land.” It is focused on food security for Ohio since 1 in 5 children in the state still go to bed hungry each night. It is estimated that 40 percent of our food is wasted and does not get eaten. Surely we can do better than this, and we must, as long as there are people going hungry. Perhaps we can sharpen our focus as we learn from the people of China just how important we treat our access to food.

Thursday – June 28, 2018

We spent the day in Xian. We visited the Shaanxi museum and saw the Terra-cotta Warriors, a display of over 6000 statues of warriors surrounding the Emperor to ensure a good afterlife. Displays of early metal working from as early as 3000 years ago were quite impressive. The history of the Chinese people is very rich and compelling.

African Orphan Crops

When we compare the early Chinese culture with what happened the last hundred years, it reminds us that innovation was absent in the early 20th century. It was only when Chairman Mao started to allow the farmers to keep part of their profits from their farms did things start to change. Today, many rural farmers are encouraged to trade their right to farm their land for several apartments in the city. They can rent their extra apartments to others and live a better life. Meanwhile, efforts to consolidate farmland continues to result in bigger farming tracts where better practices can be used that will build the soil and decontaminate the soil profile. Years of human biosolids added for nutrients to raise crops have rendered 60 percent of all fresh water to be unsuitable for even touching.

Just as the Chinese have had to change over the years, so do we all when we find there are better ways to do things. Unbridled productivity can cause breakdowns in our soils and make them more fragile and subject to degradation. By focusing on our soil’s health as we become more productive, we will help limit our risk when we get unusual weather events, and ensure our next generation there will be ample opportunities to feed our world sustainably.

Friday – June 29, 2018

Today our group took the bullet train to Chengdu, in the southwest region of China. It was interesting to see the countryside as we sped through the area. Every nook and cranny in the country is planted to something, mainly either food or feed. Even hillsides are terraced and planted with predominately corn or rice. This is the rainy season, and the rivers are out of their banks, and are deep brown in color, meaning lots of sediment is flowing out of the fields.

Arable land is so valuable here that nothing is wasted. I have to compare this with what is happening back home in my region. Five-acre lots, or mini farms, are very popular because they bypass zoning laws and people like to own larger plots. The problem is, most of those plots end up with only part of it being farmed or mowed, with the rest of it turning to a large patch of weeds and brush. In the central Ohio area, more than 10 percent of the land is taken out of production for only a 1-percent increase in population. Once this land is taken out of agriculture production, it is very doubtful it will ever produce a crop again. Perhaps we can take a lesson from the people of China, and plan better for the future needs of feeding the people. Sure, we have made great gains with more productivity on our farms, but some day we will feel the pinch of matching needs with means.

African Orphan Crops

A view from a train between Chengdu to Chongqing in the Sichuan province of China.

Saturday – June 30, 2018

Today we visited the home of the Panda Bear Research Center in Chengdu. We saw lots of Pandas having a ball munching on bamboo and having a good time. Pandas have not always been in a good state, as most of their population has disappeared, along with their inability to breed. But the Chinese have figured out how to correct this with new science, so much that the populations of Pandas have increased over 20 percent in the last few years. Much of the challenge was to find out what was happening to cause the gradual loss in numbers, and correct the things that were affecting their habitat and health.

African Orphan Crops

We could correlate this story with the new focus on our own soil health. For years we relied on our land grant universities to give us the formula to raise productive crops. Just add x and y to the soil at the right time and we could count on growing a good crop. Unfortunately, some of those nutrients have not stayed put, and have left the soil profile and ended up in our rivers and streams. Now, we are learning how to scavenge and stabilize those left-over nutrients so we can use them in the future, and saving money to boot. We can learn how to improve our soil’s resiliency to ensure our future is secure to grow the food, feed, fiber, and energy we need.

Sunday – July 1, 2018

We are wrapping up our time in China today in Guangzhou. Tomorrow we head for Hong Kong. Guangzhou is a beautiful city, with a downtown second to none in the world. The architecture and layout of the city is so well-designed with a new metro and organized city streets to handle extraordinary traffic pressure.

We visited a “wet” market, where we saw direct sales of meat, with custom butchering on the spot, as well as live fish sales. Fresh vegetables of all kinds were also direct marketed since it is customary for most people to buy their food needs on a daily basis. We also then visited a modern super market, very similar to what we have back in the states. Very good selection, and very clean and neat. China can serve the food needs of all, whether they are poor or upper class.

Since this is our last day in China, let me reflect on some perceptions. First, I am overwhelmed with the Chinese work ethic. There is an old saying here of “no time for tears, only hard work.” The history of China is long and spectacular, but they had to completely change their thinking in the modern world. Cities that didn’t even exist 10 years ago are thriving. I’ve never seen so many construction cranes in my life. It only takes 8 months to fully erect a high-rise building here. Technology is a huge driver as they continue to thrive. They are second to none when it comes to cutting edge innovation. I guess I thought I would see them as behind the US, but that is not the case. China has a lot to offer the world, just as the US does. My hope is that smart people will figure out how to solve these trade issues before it is too late. We need each other.

Monday – July 2, 2018

Today we made our way to Hong Kong, but on our way there we stopped off at a soybean and rapeseed crush facility. We learned what they process, as far as soybeans, comes about 70-80 percent from Brazil and around 20-30 percent from the United States. But the U.S. total will probably drop to next to nothing if the tariffs go into effect.

Next, we stopped at a port facility where they unload the Panamax vessels and saw them in action. This facility processes around 10MMT per year, and is expanding by another 50 percent capacity very soon. This is only one of many port facilities that unload grains and oilseeds in China. Again, as a soybean and corn producer, I tense up a little when I see the enormous potential for our commodity markets in China. Those markets will be filled by countries other than the United States unless we can come to an agreement on these threatened tariffs.


African Orphan Crops

As we arrived in Hong Kong, we went through customs because even though Hong Kong is part of China, they are governed separately. The business done in this city is unbelievable. Hong Kong is the 7th largest economy in the world even though it is a small amount of land. We look forward to meetings tomorrow with USMEF, U.S. Wheat Associates, and USAPEEC to learn more about how important this city is to the United States.

Tuesday – July 3, 2018

This morning we had three great briefings from USMEF, U.S. Wheat Associates, and USAPEEC here in Hong Kong. It looks like some of the fallout from the threatened tariffs is already affecting Chinese business. U.S. wheat exports are down to zero currently, even though China is very short in good quality wheat for baking. U.S. meats will have a tough time recovering their margins since the only way to keep what markets they have here is to eat most of the tariffs to offset the cost to the wholesaler. U.S. chicken and egg exports are also down to zero. While poultry markets were interrupted earlier by Avian Influenza, that has long been resolved and now shortfall is purely political. Hong Kong remains good for U.S. agriculture products, as well as Taiwan, but China is really challenging.

I am leaving this country with a new appreciation for the Chinese people. Their work ethic and their technological know-how will get them to a better place financially. Their mix of communism and capitalism is quite interesting, with them reaching for more personal gain, while it seems in the United States more are advocating to move closer to socialism. But the bottom line is that U.S. agriculture needs these markets to survive. We can produce so much more than we can use domestically that we must rely on exports for survival. China’s middle class is growing rapidly, and they are eating better every day. To keep things rolling here, they need to import a lot of both plant and animal protein to feed their people. Free and open markets will take care of getting access to what is needed. Hong Kong’s markets have proven that to be true. Let’s figure this out and get back to business!

Thanks to the National Association of Farm Broadcasters for putting together such an outstanding opportunity to visit China and Hong Kong. I would highly recommend anyone in the future to join them on their next adventure.

Our Vision

An Agricultural Renaissance, led by innovative and entrepreneurial farmers, ranchers and foresters constructing sustainable, profitable and resilient systems that lay the foundation for a world of abundance on many scales capable of producing nutritious food, feed, fiber, clean energy, healthy ecosystems, quality livelihoods, and strong rural economies.