Serving Minnesota and Northern Iowa.

Feed ingredient buyers stop at Austin farm

By Janet Kubat Willette

Date Modified: 06/20/2013 10:35 AM

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AUSTIN, Minn. – A delegation of six feed ingredient buyers from five Asian companies visited the Merten farm last week.

The ingredient buyers from three Vietnamese companies and two Chinese companies arrived in Minnesota on June 2 and spent June 3 in one-on-one meetings with 10 different feed ingredient suppliers, said Christina Connelly of the Minnesota Department of Agriculture. Eight of the companies were from Minnesota, two were from out-of-state. On June 4, the group boarded a van for a trip to Des Moines for more meetings and time at World Pork Expo. Along the way, they stopped at the Mike Merten farm near Austin.

Mike farms in partnership with his brother, Joe. His son, Tom, and Joe's son, Joey, work for the farm. Mike is also a Pioneer seed dealer.

All four of the Mertens acted as tour guides and hosts, showing their foreign guests around the seed shed and the machinery shed. The guests also visited the bin site. The tour was hampered by a steady downpour and cool weather, which necessitated a quick run to town to rent a heater to warm the shed where an evening meal was shared.

In the seed shed, Mike Merten talked about the farm's history and showed his seed treatment equipment. Visitors asked questions and took pictures of everything, right down to the tags on the seed bags.

In the machinery shed, the visitors climbed into the tractor and the combine, taking pictures and carrying on conversations to learn from one another.

One of the buyers, on his second trade mission to the United States, said his company buys soybean meal to feed to fish, poultry and hogs. The fish are sold back to the United States.

Andy Tran, a feed ingredient buyer from Vietnam, said his company buys a lot of raw materials from the United States. He was interested in learning more about corn and soybean storage and how the crop is planted and grown. He also wanted to know how farmers make a profit and how available the feed supply will be. The trip to the farm was informative, he said.

The soybeans Tran buys will be fed to hogs and fish in Vietnam. Soybean yields in Vietnam are very low compared to the United States, he said, and U.S. soybean imports are very important. He expects demand to continue to grow.

The trip was financed by Food Export-Midwest with the Minnesota Department of Agriculture and the Iowa Economic Development Authority coordinating in-state visits, Connelly said. A group from Minnesota took a trade mission to Vietnam in December 2011 and this trip was a nice way to re-engage with the same companies, she said.

Every other row of soybeans grown in the United States is exported and 50 percent of those exports go to China.

Merten said he figured the trip would coincide with spraying season; instead they are still trying to plant.

They had 80 percent of their corn planted as of June 4 and had just started planting their soybeans on June 3.

The drought is over, Merten said. Their area was impacted by last year's drought, cutting corn and soybean yields by about 30 percent.

It's been one extreme to the other, he said.

He's been busy working with Pioneer to locate and ship in the seed he thinks he'll need and he's now looking for oats that will be planted as a cover crop on prevent plant acres.

This year reminds him of the year 21 years ago that he started as a seed dealer. That year, 1993, featured a cool, wet summer and an early frost.