Farmer Perspective: The Impact of International Trade Tours

February 2, 2023
SD Soybean Executive Director Jerry Schmitz and SD Soybean Checkoff Secretary Heather Beaner sharing a meal with leadership of one of Morocco's largest soybean meal importers.

Between getting kids to the school bus on a chilly morning and attending a South Dakota Soybean Research and Promotion Council board meeting, Heather Beaner pauses to consider the impact of face-to-face interaction with soybean customers thousands of miles away. Beaner, secretary of the South Dakota Soybean Checkoff Board, was one of the South Dakota soybean growers recently returning from a study tour of Morocco. That North African country topped the list of export destinations that needed exploration, according to Beaner, who farms at Mellette, South Dakota, about a half-hour south of Aberdeen. “It’s not a place that our board has visited before, although it is a market for South Dakota soybean meal,” said Beaner, referring to Morocco, “and we just felt that getting our board acquainted with the country, with the market, with the people, [and] with the processes would be important to see how we can expand our influence in that area.”

Beaner’s impression of Morocco contrasts from the very advanced in its population centers to subsistence farming in its rural areas. “We saw donkeys and oxen pulling equipment and we saw tiny herds of sheep with one shepherd, and then you’d see the big mass of [modern] equipment in the cities,” said Beaner, “and it really is, it’s at both ends of the spectrum.”

Beaner is struck by the interest shown by Moroccan officials she and the other growers met. “It was amazing; they wanted to know about our farms, they wanted to know what the other parts of our operations were, and there were a lot of business cards exchanged,” said Beaner, about the Moroccans the group met during the tour. “And those are the kinds of relationships that when those opportunities might be later this year or even years down the road, they’re like, ‘I know that farmer in South Dakota.’”

Morocco is an established market for U.S. and South American soybean meal to feed livestock. “And one of the big questions we asked the importers was ‘if you have a choice beyond price being one of your major factors, what do you look for?’ and they said ‘We want United States’ meal. It's just consistent, it’s better quality, it’s better protein, it’s better all around.’ And having a handful of non-American soybean meal in one and a handful of American in the other, it really showed that.”

Transportation logistics make South Dakota-produced farm products better suited for export to parts of the world other than northwestern Africa, but Heather Beaner sees merit in promoting the state’s soybeans to potential customers in countries less traveled. “A lot of our soybean meal might go out the [Pacific Northwest for export to Asia], but some of it does go down to the Gulf [of Mexico] and over to Morocco at times,” she said. “Even while we were there, we saw some Dakota Gold corn product, so our region does make it there to Morocco.”

U.S. Soybean Meal
Dakota Gold at Alf Sahel in Morocco