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ILEAD Class Reports from China - 2

Posted on December 11, 2013 at 2:49 PM by Iowa Corn

Our first full day in Beijing started with a visit to the U.S. Embassy where we received a briefing from the Foreign Ag Service (FAS - a division within the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture). They explained to us the role they play in facilitating trade between the U.S. and China, with a specific emphasis on eliminating middle-men and thereby streamlining the process for importing raw ingredients and finished products. There is a segment of the Chinese market that will pay a premium for U.S. food, but ingredients are more complicated.  There is a widely-held perception that U.S. consumers don't eat GMOs, and that we only sell them to second-tier markets such as China.  Helping to clear up myths like this is a major focus of the FAS, and they partner with the U.S. Grains Council in this regard.

U.S. Embassy
We also discussed the complex and convoluted nature of Chinese Ag Statistics reporting and interpretation.  The government massages the numbers to tell the story they want, which is all about continued production increases and self-sufficiency.  The governing party's goal is that 95 percent of all food consumed in China be produced there - but given the arable land and water resources available for the mind-bogglingly vast populous, it simply isn't attainable.  The U.S. Grains Council and FAS team indicated that China will have to start embracing GMOs and also back off of the hard line of 95 percent domestic production.  That being said, they have other options for food besides the U.S., and they want to diversify where their imports come from rather than relying heavily on any one particular nation.

In the afternoon we visited a Buddhist temple constructed on the grounds of a former emperor's palace which included a 18 meter tall statue of the Buddha supposedly carved from a single piece of wood in Tibet, and shipped across the mountains in the 18th century as a gift from the Dali Lama.
The open air market. 

Our next stop was a wet market, which can best be described as a giant open air farmers’ market crossed
with a butcher shop. The vendors aren't themselves farmers, but rather purchase their wares from wholesalers and coalesce to sell at markets like this across the city. The meat stands have every manner of chicken, pork and seafood on hand, and will chop you off a chunk of whichever cut you're in the mood for (including pig heart, trotters and ears).  There are live-wells for the seafood, and we saw shoppers buying fish heads, fish tails, octopus, squid, shrimp or even live fish, wrapped in a bag and strapped to their bicycles. Also available - toad and rabbit (or raccoon, depending on who you asked).

We then had the opportunity to see modern food retail, which was very similar to a grocery store in the States, but with more extensive meat counters.  These counters are staffed with competing retailers vying for the customers' business, typically at 80-100 decibels.  These "hyper-markets" as they are called, are increasingly how those who dwell in the major metro areas are purchasing their food.

Our day was capped off by a meal with area agricultural leaders at Quanjude, which is a restaurant that specializes in Pekin Duck. While the roast duck is the main course, the preceding appetizers included duck feet, skin, heart and tongue, and even tried some fried scorpions thrown in for good measure.

Devin Mogler is senior vice president of operations for Farmers Cooperative Company. He has been with the company since 2008. Mogler is a graduate of Iowa State University and grew up on a diversified crop and livestock farm in Lyon County in northwest Iowa.

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