soybean field

USSEC Sponsors China Visit for NDSU Soil Scientists

USSEC recently sponsored a visit to China for two soil scientists from North Dakota State University to consult with farmers there on the prevention of soil erosion in the cradle of world soy production.
United Soybean Board (USB) director Jay Myers of Colfax, North Dakota and former American Soybean Association (ASA) director Bob Worth of Lake Benton, Minnesota, joined Dave Franzen, an Extension Service soil scientist, and Tom DeSutter, a research scientist, on their tour of the so-called "black soil" region of the Heilongjiang Province in northeastern China, where one-sixth of that country's soybeans are grown.
The region includes what once was a 30-million-acre imperial game preserve.  It was plowed for farming in 1949 and now supplies a sixth of that country's soybeans.  Dr. Franzen says, "They plowed most of this by hand, no animals." He adds that the Chinese have already addressed their wind erosion problems with thousands of miles of tree rows, many of which are 30 years old.  The government ordered people to plant them, he says.
The Chinese still have startling water erosion problems.  Crop residue is either incorporated or removed, which increases the likelihood of erosion.  The Chinese plant soybeans and other crops atop "ridges" built with pulverized soil.  The ridge bottoms tend to "channelize the water," and it runs off and down into valleys.  "They've been doing it for 5,000 years," according to Dr. DeSutter.
The government owns all farmland, leasing it to individual farmers with rental titles.  The area visited by the U.S. delegation includes three primary types of farms:  village farms, which are hand-planted and hand-harvested, and where farmers are allocated a sixth-acre each; co-ops of 7,000 acres to 15,000 acres within villages where the government pays for 60 percent of the machinery costs; and government farms that are large-scale, similar to the U.S.  Most of the land is in the village-type farming.
Fertilizer application is about double what U.S. farmers apply, Dr. DeSutter says.  "Even for soybeans, they'll put down 50 pounds of nitrogen per acre," he said, while U.S. farmers would use little or none.  Nitrogen applications for corn are "twice as high" as what Red River Valley farmers might apply.  "Certainly, there is the potential for nutrient loss," he states.
Prior to 2005, the Chinese government attempted to keep as many people as possible on the farm.  Since then, however, the government has been trying to move people off the farms and into the cities to offset a labor shortage.
Many of the soybeans that the U.S. ships to China are genetically modified to be herbicide resistant.  Because the Chinese don't grow GM crops, the farmers there often asked the U.S. visitors whether they ate GM soybeans or fed them to families.
"About two-thirds of our soybeans are being exported to China," Mr. Myers explains.  "A trip like this is mainly about building relationships with their soybean organizations -- the farmers and processors -- so everything is on good terms when they need to buy soybeans."