Lessons learned Garnavillo farmer reflects on China trip

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The Great Wall of China was one of the cultural sites Erik Oberbroeckling visited during a recent market study tour of China. The Garnavillo farmer was one of 26 people on the tour.
The Great Wall of China was one of the cultural sites Erik Oberbroeckling visited during a recent market study tour of China. The Garnavillo farmer was one of 26 people on the tour.

By Pam Reinig
Register Editor

A Clayton County farmer who was part of a market study tour to China has grim news for Iowa soybean and pork producers.

“China does not want to be dependent on the USA to be a supplier of anything—end of story,” said Erik Oberbroeckling, a third generation farmer from Garnavillo. “They want to be self-sufficient and feed their own people. They won’t be able to do it but they’ll try, and while they’re trying beans will continue to pile up.”

Oberbroeckling was one of 26 people who participated in a recent 10-day market study tour sponsored by Iowa Farm Bureau. As part of the tour, the group visited Chinese crop and livestock farms and met with users of U.S.-grown soybeans and other crops. They divided their time between Beijing and southeast China.

In recent years, China has been the nation’s number one soybean importer buying more than 33 percent of the U.S. crop, according to Oberbroeckling. But a trade war and retaliatory tariffs has China looking elsewhere for crops and livestock.
“Europe sells four times as much pork into China as the USA does,” Oberbroeckling said. “And once the high-speed overland rail from Europe to China is built, that percentage will definitely increase.”

The IFB group also has an opportunity to visit supermarkets, a dairy, other food outlets and cultural sites. A keen observer, Oberbroeckling recorded his impressions of daily life in China covering everything from employment to housing to education.
“I tried to go into the trip with an open mind,” he said. “Probably the biggest culture shock was the cleanliness of the country. The streets are all swept. People were manually scrubbing the cement slabs at the train station. Here, we’d use power washers because they’re quicker. But efficiency is less of an issue in country that needs to keep 1.4 billion people employed.”


Oberbroeckling was also amazed at the way transactions are handled in China. Goods and services paid using technologies like Apple Pay.

“Nobody carries cash,” he said. “China skipped credit cards and went directly to Apple Pay. About 80 percent of the country uses it including street vendors and restroom attendants. They even sell pigs amongst each other via Apple Pay.”

Very little land is privately owned. Individual farmers can wok small parcel of ground (about 1/3 acre) rent-free for 30 years. However, big corporations have to pay rent to the government. Dairies are exempt from rent payments because China needs milk. In fact, demand greatly outpaces supply. The largest dairy farmer in China has 450,000 cows and the second largest has 350,000—and even that’s not enough to met the demand for milk.

“Lots of dairy products come from New Zealand and Australia,” Oberbroeckling said. “Cheese was a foreign concept 10 years ago. Pizza is the major use of it right now.”

Following are some additional observations from Oberbroecklings trip:

According to a tour guide, shoes and clothing made in China are cheaper to buy in the U.S.

Most gas stations are full service in order to provide more jobs.

Gas prices are the same across all of China because the government owns every one of the stations.

Due to extreme smog issues, 20 percent of cars are banned from driving every day, something that’s controlled based on the last digit of the license plate. For example, if your plate ends in a 1 or 5, you can’t drive on Monday. Oberbroeckloing said people get around this buy purchasing a second car. One million people apply monthly for the available 18,000 new license plates.

The equivalent of $15,000 U.S. is spent annually on food and medicine for each panda in the zoo.

College entrance exams are required after high school. Test results are used to place students at specific universities.
All social media content is filtered by the government before it appears on screen.

High speed Internet is readily available. “One guy in our group commented that he had excellent cell service on top of the Great Wall of China, yet his calls drop near a flat field in Fort Dodge where he can see a cell tower,” Oberbroeckling commented.

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