Farm Progress

Steve Wellman discusses recent trade mission to China and potential trade opportunities for Nebraska.

Tyler Harris, Editor

July 26, 2018

5 Min Read
GOING GLOBAL: Steve Wellman visited the Chinese ports in Shenzhen and Guangzhou in spring, as part of his first international trade mission as director.fploong/getty images

This year Steve Wellman was officially confirmed as the director for the Nebraska Department of Agriculture. He sat down with Nebraska Farmer this summer to discuss current topics in agriculture, including international trade.

Could you tell us about your background in international trade? Where did you first get started with international trade missions?
I served on the Nebraska Soybean Association for nine years, and following that, I served with the American Soybean Association for nine years. My experience in international trade came from those two associations. My first international trip was with AGP in 2004. It was an AGP-sponsored mission with the Nebraska and Iowa soybean checkoffs and associations. The mission included stops in Vietnam and Thailand, all for marketing soy. Thailand had a soy processing industry at the time, but Vietnam did not. They both do now. AGP had a market there, and it was really about seeing the customer base built through relationships that AGP had worked on for a long time.

After that, through the American Soybean Association and ASA International Marketing, which is a cooperator with USDA on Foreign Market Development funds, Market Access Program funds, being a cooperator with them and in conjunction with soybean checkoff dollars to do international marketing of soybeans. One of the first international trips I had with ASA was to Japan, and ASA international marketing had been in Japan at that point in time for 50 years. It's a long-term relationship. Not only do you have to have those relationships, but you have to have a product that suits their needs and fits what they want to accomplish. It’s very efficient to move soybeans or soy meal to international markets like that to use for their livestock production. It's a great protein source, and the oil is for human consumption or biofuels. Those relationships, having an office in those countries, having face-to-face time daily, and being able to service the customer is key.

Your most recent international trip — and your first as NDA director — was to China this spring. What were some stops on the trip, and what were some of the topics discussed?
The USDA Agribusiness Trade Mission was to southeast China, where we stopped in Guangzhou and Shenzhen. About half of the U.S. ag products shipped to China go into that area. There’s a bulk commodity port in Guangzhou, which is the Pearl River basin, and we visited the third-largest container port in the world in Shenzhen.

U.S. trade with China dates back to 1784. The first ship had ginseng and cotton onboard from the U.S. to service the needs of consumers in China. It’s nothing new, but it certainly is important to the U.S., and it’s important to Chinese consumers and the Chinese livestock industry.

In 2012 the soybean industry celebrated 30 years of international marketing in China. It took eight to nine years before we sold one soybean to the China market. Now, China buys more soybeans than the rest of the world combined.

The thing that stuck in my mind from that trip was meeting some of the individuals that were there from Day 1 that had worked with U.S. soy producers and were part of the education process for livestock production, educating Chinese producers on how to use soy in livestock diets, how to improve what they were doing to make them more efficient and productive.

During the USDA ATM, we met with Chinese customs officials to hear what they look at when products are coming in. We talked with both current and potential buyers of U.S. products, as well as retailers. The general takeaway is they have a desire to buy more U.S. ag products. They think and believe that U.S. products are the highest quality, safest products they can buy.

What are some potential market opportunities on the horizon for U.S. ag products going into China?
Looking forward, I think buyers would be open to buying U.S. DDGS, but there have been some policy issues with accusations of dumping by U.S. in the Chinese market.

The main thing we heard from Chinese buyers trying to supply products is that they need better access to U.S. agricultural products. Some of that is the government policy. There are 10 biotechnology traits that have not been approved. We can’t tell where the process is at. We can just tell there isn’t any formal action being taken to get these products approved.

Ethanol would be an opportunity, because pollution reduction is one of China’s focus areas. Ethanol from the U.S. could be a part of their answer to reducing pollution.

Beef to China opened in June 2017 after 14 years of being locked out because of BSE [bovine spongiform encephalopathy]. We’re happy to have that marketplace open now, but the doors are barely open.

When we visited stores in China, we saw U.S. beef. At one store we saw Nebraska beef in the showcase, which sold out in two days. They would love to be able to get more of it, but we just don’t have the access to ship more products — even though the numbers would say $11 million of Nebraska beef went to China in the first three months of 2018. So, it’s already in the top 10 marketplaces for Nebraska beef. Nebraska ships $1.43 billion worth of ag products every year to China. Over $1 billion of that is soybeans. That leaves about $400 million, and about half of that is hide and skins. We have great products of higher value to export if we had access.

About the Author(s)

Tyler Harris

Editor, Wallaces Farmer

Tyler Harris is the editor for Wallaces Farmer. He started at Farm Progress as a field editor, covering Missouri, Kansas and Iowa. Before joining Farm Progress, Tyler got his feet wet covering agriculture and rural issues while attending the University of Iowa, taking any chance he could to get outside the city limits and get on to the farm. This included working for Kalona News, south of Iowa City in the town of Kalona, followed by an internship at Wallaces Farmer in Des Moines after graduation.

Coming from a farm family in southwest Iowa, Tyler is largely interested in how issues impact people at the producer level. True to the reason he started reporting, he loves getting out of town and meeting with producers on the farm, which also gives him a firsthand look at how agriculture and urban interact.

Subscribe to receive top agriculture news
Be informed daily with these free e-newsletters

You May Also Like