‘I’ve got to be positive’: MSR&PC director talks SE Asia trip, upcoming challenges

Before international travel grinded to a screeching halt following the outbreak of the coronavirus, Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC) Director Patrick O’Leary traveled to Southeast Asia in late January during a nearly two week-long marketing trip to meet with buyers and highlight the supreme quality of northern-grown soybeans.

“The trip was great,” said O’Leary, who attended on behalf of the Council and Northern Soy Marketing. “We did have some very positive feedback about U.S. soy. The seminars were very well-attended.”

O’Leary spent 12 days in Southeast Asia, traveling to Sri Lanka, Myanmar and Thailand before flying to Malaysia.

“Myanmar is a very interesting country,” O’Leary said. “From a feed standpoint, it’s an up and coming country, with significant potential with the expansions that are going on.”

He was accompanied by University of Minnesota Seth Naeve and consultant Peter Mishek, both of whom work with NSM on its Essential Amino Acids messaging.

“Malaysia went very well. They’re in the process of some feeding trials and it was a good discussion and things are moving forward,,” said O’Leary, who served as Council chair from 2017-2019. “We hope it’s going to be a positive scenario for the northern soy growers.”

Last year, O’Leary toured Southeast Asia with fellow farmer leaders on a marketing and leadership mission, and followed up on those visits this year.

“They’re old friends now,” he said, laughing. “There’s definitely a consumption demand out there for U.S. soybeans.”

A new reality

Upon returning home, O’Leary recalls he first heard about a mysterious virus spreading in China.

“Everything has changed in the past few weeks,” he said last week while driving from his Benson farm to the Northern Commodity Transportation Conference in Bloomington. “Time will tell how this plays out.”

MSR&PC Director Patrick O’Leary (back row, middle) participated in a 12-day trip of Southeast Asia in late January.

The end game for the soybean market, O’Leary says, is anybody’s guess. Ever the optimist, while traveling is unlikely in the near future, he’s hopeful his promotion action team can host trade teams and reach its marketing goals for 2020. Right now, he says, his team is in a “holding pattern” until travel and mobility restrictions (both foreign and domestic) are lifted.

“It’s going to get better,” O’Leary said. “I’ve got to be positive that this is going work its way through and we’ll get it handled.”

Until then, O’Leary, echoing the thoughts of many Minnesota farmers, is counting down the days until spring begins so he can cast aside the drumbeat of news and focus on the upcoming planting season.

“I just need spring field work to come, so then I have a month where I won’t go anywhere except from my house to the farm and back,” he said. “I’ll be good.”

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