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Missouri farmer tracks soybeans to seafood

A trip south shows U.S. soy’s role in Colombian agriculture. Plus, there’s video from the Panama Canal.

Mindy Ward, Editor, Missouri Ruralist

April 30, 2024

3 Min Read
A cargo ship going through the Panama Canal
EXPORT HUB: Missouri farmer Ryan Wilson visited the Panama Canal in February as part of the U.S. Soy Checkoff See for Yourself mission. “When you learn about it, it seems like a little stream that was cut through the bottom of Panama to get ships across,” he says. “When you actually sit there and look at its size and engineering from 100 years ago, it’s very eye-opening.”Courtesy of Ryan Wilson

Ryan Wilson never thought his soybeans could land in Colombia, but that notion changed after an overseas trip.

“We take it to the elevator, it gets on the Mississippi River, and we say goodbye to it and never think about where it ends up,” the Missouri Bootheel farmer says. “But when you go somewhere like this, you realize it could very well be the final destination for your product and the effect it can have on a community.”

Until now, trips outside of the country consisted primarily of beach vacations for the Portageville, Mo., farmer who raises soybeans, corn, cotton and rice. Wilson joined other U.S. farmers on a journey to Panama and Colombia as part of the U.S. Soy Checkoff See for Yourself mission. He witnessed how soy checkoff investments affect other parts of the world and drive demand for soy.

This was the first experience at taking a deep dive into international agriculture and its boomerang effect when it comes to U.S. soybeans and Colombian tilapia.

Beneficial north-south partnership

Colombia's reliance on U.S. soybeans is significant, with 70% of its soybean imports coming from America’s farmers. International partnerships are crucial for farmers to expand their reach and create new business opportunities.

The U.S. group visited a tilapia farm, which is a sizable export market for Colombian farmers. About 16% to 18% of Colombian production goes to export markets, with 92% of overseas shipments headed for the U.S.

“You can really see the role of something grown here, being shipped out to be used elsewhere, but ends up returning right back to where the original products came from,” says Wilson, a member of the Missouri Soybeans board of directors. “It's just a really nice partnership that benefits both parties.”

The trip also included a visit to GrupoBios, a large animal feed production company that makes 30% of its feed with U.S. soy, which sells to cattle and poultry farmers.

Snapshot of Colombian agriculture

Income and population in Colombia are expected to rise, driving demand for U.S. agriculture products over the next 10 years, according to the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service.

It reports the country as the third-largest market for U.S. soybean meal, fourth-largest market for corn and seventh-largest for pork.

Top U.S. ag exports to Colombia include:

  • corn

  • soybean meal

  • soybean oil

  • rice

  • pork

Top Colombia ag exports include:

  • coffee

  • flowers

  • bananas

  • avocados

  • palm oil

Connect farmers with farmers

For Wilson, the personal interactions left a lasting impression, noting that people want to work and create new businesses.

“They’ve opened an innovation center to train employees to fit in the soy industry, whether that is working in one of the feed mills or on the tilapia farms,” he says. “People are happy to have a job, and U.S. soybeans are helping make that happen.”

Wilson adds the trip leaves no doubt that the soy checkoff works. Being able to see firsthand the markets and partnerships created, he says, “is money well spent.”

“We have a great soybean product, one of the best out there,” Wilson adds. “I just took it for granted.”

Click on the video below to hear more from Wilson on his visit to the Panama Canal:

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About the Author(s)

Mindy Ward

Editor, Missouri Ruralist

Mindy resides on a small farm just outside of Holstein, Mo, about 80 miles southwest of St. Louis.

After graduating from the University of Missouri-Columbia with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural journalism, she worked briefly at a public relations firm in Kansas City. Her husband’s career led the couple north to Minnesota.

There, she reported on large-scale production of corn, soybeans, sugar beets, and dairy, as well as, biofuels for The Land. After 10 years, the couple returned to Missouri and she began covering agriculture in the Show-Me State.

“In all my 15 years of writing about agriculture, I have found some of the most progressive thinkers are farmers,” she says. “They are constantly searching for ways to do more with less, improve their land and leave their legacy to the next generation.”

Mindy and her husband, Stacy, together with their daughters, Elisa and Cassidy, operate Showtime Farms in southern Warren County. The family spends a great deal of time caring for and showing Dorset, Oxford and crossbred sheep.

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