SYCAMORE, Ill. — Ryan Frieders had a visit from some hometown folks on his farm this summer.
Not exactly “hometown,” but among a visiting group of soybean buyers and end users from the European Union were buyers who hailed from the EU nation of Luxembourg.
“My family is from Luxembourg and some of the buyers in the first group were from there. That was a neat connection for me. I’ve never been there, but they knew where my ancestors had lived,” Frieders said.
Frieders and his wife, Deanne, and four children raise soybeans, corn, cattle and hay at their farm in rural Sycamore.
Frieders is the District 1 director for the Illinois Soybean Association.
“One of our goals is promoting exports and trade. They were looking for someone close to Chicago, because they have groups coming from Europe. I happen to be pretty close and they asked if I was interested in hosting,” he said.
This year, Frieders was able to offer an additional benefit for the visitors — a close-up view of the product they buy.
“This year, where I live, we had a soybean field right around our property,” he said.
With the visits happening after planting and before harvest, Frieders said there was only minimal preparation that needed to be done for the guests.
But that did include one important “housekeeping” chore before the first group of visitors arrived.
“We pride ourselves on having weed-free fields. In fact, there was one weed growing out in the field and that morning, I walked out and pulled it because I didn’t want them to see even one weed out there,” Frieders said.
Weed control, seed technology, sustainability and conservation were the topics that came up most often during the visits.
“They were really interested in soil conservation practices and they were really interested in production per acre, if that is increasing or decreasing and as it is increasing, how we are doing that and achieving those increased yields,” Frieders said.
On that topic, Frieders could speak to the progress of yields through genetically modified seeds and seed technology.
“In my farming career, GMOs have become a mainstay. When I started farming, they weren’t widespread. When I started farming, if our soybeans yielded in the 40s, we thought that was really good, back in the early 1990s. Now, we are pushing 70 bushels to the acre with advances in genetics and all the improvements in seed breeding,” Frieders said.
For Eileen Urish, trade and exports manager for the Illinois Soybean Association, who helps arrange the visits, along with a team from the U.S. Soybean Export Council, the Frieders farm and family are the ideal hosts.
“The Europeans want to talk about sustainability. With O’Hare being an international airport, we scan an hour or two radius around Chicago and the suburbs for host farms. With conservation and sustainability in mind, we have a lot of farmers who have those practices at the forefront of what they do,” she said.
Frieders was able to talk about his own farm’s conservation practices with his visitors.
“We talked about our Conservation Reserve acreage that we have to protect our watershed. We talked about our waterways. We talked about modern soil testing and fertility and using new genetics to improve yield along with being able to take advantage of all the weed control options,” he said.
The EU, as a trading bloc, is the third largest importer of U.S. soybeans, importing 4.18 million metric tons of soybeans from the United States in 2019-2020.
The top EU nations that are customers for U.S. soybeans include Netherlands, Germany, Spain, Portugal and France.
Urish added that the EU market for U.S. soybeans has the potential to grow.
“A lot of the EU countries import for both food grade, which is really common now, as we see the development of plant-based protein sources, and also for a lot of livestock production,” she said.
A second group that visited briefly on the farm later in the summer was interested in transportation, in how soybeans from Illinois can get to countries in Europe.
“We talked a lot about transportation with that group. They wanted to know where our markets were, where we delivered to, how much of our soybeans were exported versus how much were used domestically. We talked about the Illinois River and the river markets in Ottawa. We talked about some of the other options, like the container market in Joliet. Some of these buyers source soybeans through the container market, so they were very interested in that and getting the beans from Joliet to the East Coast and over to Europe,” Frieders said.