Bob Suver works on his farm in Clark County. He recently returned from China to meet with soybean crushers.
Photo: Contributed
Photo: Contributed

Area farmer part of group working to maintain relationship with Chinese buyers

An area farmer is optimistic about trade tensions between the U.S. and China over crop exports and what it will mean for Ohio farmers.

Clark County farmer Bob Suver recently visited Shanghai, China with ambassadors from five other states to keep relationships alive between the countries.

Suver, who serves on the Ohio Soybean Council Board of Trustees and was formerly president of the Clark County Farm Bureau, traveled to China alongside representatives from Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri and South Dakota in what Suver called a “reverse crop tour.”

Usually several different Chinese trade teams would come to the United States to visit farms, but because of trade tensions and an ongoing concern that American hogs could be infected by the African Swine Fever that has killed more than 100 million pigs in China, the trade teams did not travel to America this year.

The retired Clark County Job and Family Services director who has been married to his wife Denise for as long as he’s been farming — 46 years — and the other farmers collected data from their fields. Along with members of the United States Soybean Export Council, they told Chinese authorities, investors and the largest soybean pressing companies about the abnormal weather conditions and other details about this year’s crop.

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“One way or the other, we felt the real need…that we have to continue to maintain these relationships,” said Ed Ebert, senior director of grain production and utilization for the Indiana Soybean Alliance, and one of the Midwest representatives alongside Suver in China. “It’s important to maintain those relationships and keep those dialogues open even in the midst of a fairly serious trade dispute because at some point this will get resolved.”

During the trip, the group of farmers and soy experts met with two of the largest soy crushers in China. COFCO is owned by the state. Bohi is privately owned and still buys soybeans.

“They just bring them into port and they crush them and then they export them right back out to other countries. And the government has not so subtly told them ‘if you try to distribute those within China we can guarantee that the ships won’t be allowed in,’” Suver said.

While both meetings were good, Suver said the attitudes between privately-held Bohi were much different than those of state-owned COFCO, which was more interested in how cheap American farmers could sell their beans, testing the farmers to see what a breaking point could be in the trade war.

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“The ambassador, the lead agriculture minister from USDA assigned to the embassy, along with the Bohi all seemed to think the conditions surrounding upcoming trade talks were optimistic,” Suver said.

The next round of serious negotiations are expected in October.

“I guess I’m still optimistic. I was even more optimistic last spring when we thought we had something but then they pulled back,” Suver said. “I support the need to tighten things up with the Chinese because everything that we seem to do with the Chinese…whenever they’re talking to us on the current situation, they play the long game. So they’re always thinking how they can have a card to play in the future if necessary.”

Suver said he’s even more optimistic after learning that the recent farm tour cancellations were a request from the U.S. and not a retaliatory move by China.

The farmers marketed U.S. soybeans as superior to the product China can get from South America because of its protein levels. The added tariff is not what’s getting in the way of Chinese crushers purchasing the beans though, Suver said, because South American beans are nearly as expensive because of China’s reliance on the continent during the tensions with the U.S.

China has traditionally purchased about 35 metric tons of soybeans a year from American farmers, OSU agriculture economist Ben Brown said. That dropped to nearly zero as the trade war heightened. Chinese crushers have purchased more soybeans in recent weeks as trade talks approach.

“We want to try to get back as much (of China’s soybean demand) as we can,” Suver said. “…It’s not going to be a quick return.”

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