Nineteen Iowa farmers and a couple Farm Bureau staff members departed for China on June 30, to participate in Iowa Farm Bureau Federation’s (IFBF) second International Market Study Tour. In China, participants are learning about Chinese culture and opportunities and challenges for Iowa agricultural products. Stayed tuned to Farm Fresh for more updates on their 12-day trip!

Farm Bureau members Hilary Lanman and Darren Luers take a break from their hike on the Great Wall of China.When your mission is to study China’s potential to increase imports of major Iowa ag products–soybeans, pork, corn and others—it’s critical to get a good feel for the country’s history and culture. It’s important, for example, to understand why the Chinese are so intent on maintaining food security and why a rapidly urbanizing society holds so tightly to its rural roots.

A great place to start your research on Chinese culture is Beijing’s Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City, as well as the Great Wall, one of the world’s great wonders in mountains outside the capital city.

So that’s where members of the Iowa Farm Bureau Federation China study tour headed after a couple of half-day seminars to learn about Chinese agriculture, future buying trends and trade issues.

For many of us used to rural Iowa, it was almost overwhelming to experience the size of the crowds at the top tourist sites in the world’s most populous county. And, I confess, I lost track of the various Chinese dynasties and the reigns of various emperors that our tour guide carefully explained. But you couldn’t help but be impressed by the size and scale of the Chinese monument, which represented thousands of years of history compared to Iowa’s, at well under 200.

Yet learning about China’s struggles to defend itself against invaders, survive wars, famine and disastrous government policies, helps you understand how that country views the world. It’s also a clear indication why the Chinese are reluctant to jettison their often-inefficient agriculture to rely more heavily on the United States and other exporters for their food needs.

Trade is vital part of Iowa agriculture. But, as the IFBF group found early in their China visit, it can’t be done in a vacuum. Visiting and learning about your customer is essential.

By Dirck Steimel. Dirck is Iowa Farm Bureau's News Services Manager.