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Minnesota Hopes to Capitalize on Growing Vietnam Market

Potential. Growth. Demand. These are all buzz words that have been thrown around for the past two weeks as a delegation of Minnesota farmers toured parts of Vietnam as part of the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council’s (MSR&PC) See For Youself mission to the country.

“All the potential that is here is kind of like that best piece of ground in your township or in the whole area,” said Kevin Paap, a farmer near Garden City, Minn., and president of Minnesota Farm Bureau. “Everybody knows it’s your best piece of ground and everybody knows what the potential is and everybody is going to be interested in it. Everybody is going to do everything to be a part of it.”

Chuck Retka (left) and Trevore Brekken (second from right) listen to an official from Interflour Port and Mill explain how they store flour for milling at the Cai Mep Industrial Zone, March 22, in Vietnam.

The delegation was overseeing investments made by MSR&PC in Vietnam and learning more about how Tran Trong Chien, director of Ag Consulting Company in Vietnam, and his staff work to grow Minnesota’s presence in the market.

“I think it is important that farmers know that Minnesota and its checkoff soley fund Mr. Chien’s office and staff in Vietnam,” said Timothy Loh, Regional Director of the United States Soybean Export Council (USSEC) in Southeast Asia.

According to USSEC, about 45 percent of the general population in Vietnam is between 25-45 years old. The middle and affluent class in Vietnam is expected to double in size between 2014 and 2020, from 12 million to 33 million people.

MSR&PC Chairman Keith Schrader, who led the delegation of 13 farmers to Vietnam, said in order to grow a market, it is important to get into the country and market a product, in this case U.S. soybeans, and more importantly, Minnesota soybeans.

“China was exporting soybeans roughly 25 years ago, and the American Soybean Association-International Marketing went into China and started showing Chinese farmers how to feed their pigs better and make more money,” he said. “People thought they were crazy for spending all this time in China. Well look at the amount of beans they are using. They are our No. 1 export market now. So it’s the long haul. Get in there, get to the feed companies, teach them about nutrition and raising their animals more efficiently to make more money.”

Trevore Brekken, who farms near Crookston, Minn., was impressed with Chien and his team in Vietnam. He said because of the work they do, it was clear that the companies the delegation visited cared about visiting with the group.

“These guys take us seriously,” he said. “It’s not very often you get the top guy to give you the tour. I think they know we are serious, they know we’ve got a great product. I think it is going to be a great relationship coming down the road.”

Paap agreed.

Vinh Hoan Corporation, one of the worlds largest exporters of seafood, has several Pangasius farms where they feed the freshwater catfish a fish meal mixture containing 35-40 percent soybean meal. The fish aggressively fight for the pellets, creating a mist-like atmosphere as they fight for food.

“Whether it is USSEC or USMEF or FAS or whoever, I like it when Mr. Chien comes in and they know who he is and they have that relationship beforehand,” he said. “You see that smile and ‘how’s it going’ and you know he’s not just here to cater to us because we’re their bosses, their funders. They’re doing their work everyday.”

On Friday, March 18, the delegation visited a CP feed mill near Hanoi, Vietnam before heading out to meet with a CP poultry producer and CP swine producer. CP is the world’s larget feed ingredient manufacturer and is committed to providing safe feed, safe packaged food and education for its farmers to producer better products.

“I just thought it was crazy how they sell the baby chickens, they have all the genetics, they sell the feed and they own all the packaging,” said Ben Storm, who is vice chair of the Olmsted/South Wabasha Corn & Soybean Growers Association and farms near Dover, Minn. “They own the whole system minus the raising of the animals.”

Patrick Hennen, who chairs the Lyon County Corn & Soybean Growers and farms near Ghent, Minn., was taken aback by the reception at the poultry farm.

“I wonder if he ever had anyone out to his place,” Hennen said. “He was really proud. He had tears in his eyes.”

In Ho Chi Minh City, the delegation met with officials from Bunge, toured the Tan Cang — Cai Mep Internation Terminal, toured Interflour Port and Mill, visited Vinh Hoan Corportation, one of the worlds largest exporters of seafood, and toured one of the company’s Pangasius farms. Pangasius is a freshwater catfish, and the company uses a 35-40 percent mixture of soybean meal in its fish meal.

Click here to view a video of the fish farm..

The group wrapped its mission Wednesday with a meeting with key soybean and soybean meal traders in Ho Chi Minh City before touring a local grocery store.

Learn more about the delegation’s mission to Vietnam in the May-June issue of Soybean Business Magazine.

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