Tricounty News

Tom Haag visits China

By Julie Bulau, Staff writer

An Eden Valley farmer found himself far from the fields of Minnesota recently when he traveled to China as part of a trade mission led by Gov. Mark Dayton.

Tom Haag, vice president of the Minnesota Corn Growers, was one of the 50-member delegation that toured China June 8-17. The group spent time in Beijing, Shanghai and Xian.

From the vastness of the cities, to the sprawling Great Wall, to seeing farm work still done by hand, the trip left a lasting impression. "It was an experience I'll never forget," Haag said.

The delegation departed Minneapolis June 8 for the 11-hour flight to Beijing where they spent three days sight-seeing including the Great Wall, Tiananmen Square and Forbidden City, attending meetings and receptions, and visiting the U.S. Embassy, as well as area businesses. Haag's group met with agriculture officials and toured a privately-owned feed mill.

"China imports some corn but mostly soybeans and DDGs (dried distilling grains) which is a protein supplement," Haag said.

While most of their time was spent in the cities, Haag did get a first-hand look at agriculture in China. He was surprised to see much of the field work still done by hand on farms that were only an acre or two in size.

"Technology for raising food is about 30 or 40 years behind us," Haag said. "You'd tell them you farmed 600 acres or more and they'd just shake their heads and say 'how do you do that?'"

In Shanghai, the group visited a supermarket which proved to be a bit of a culture shock. The meat department included big frogs and chickens which still had their heads and feet attached.

"Pork is really starting to catch on," Haag said. "It's the major thing people want."

The group also visited a Hormel food-processing plant and that night they attended a dinner for honoring Minnesota businesses and organizations where Haag was in for another shock.

"Tom, what are you doing here?" said a voice. Haag turned around to see Eden Valley native Jim Sieben, who was in China meeting with customers of the Willmar-based poultry equipment firm Nova-Tech. Sieben was on hand for a contract signing with Gov. Dayton.

Thursday found the group attending meetings in the morning and touring Bright Dairy in the afternoon. Haag learned the Chinese use only whole milk and are big into the yogurt products.

The final leg of the journey found the group flying to Xian which was the original capital of China. The city is located in the Shaanxi Province which has had a sister relationship with Minnesota the last 30 years. Because Dayton was the first Minnesota governor to visit in recent years, the group was treated like royalty.

"There was a band welcoming us when we got off the plane and when we went up the escalator, there were children waving banners," Haag said.

The delegation met with the governor of the Shaanxi Province, Zhao Zhengyong. On Saturday, they visited the Terracotta Warrior Museum, which is an archeological site. More than 2,000 years ago, an emperor, fearing his empire would be attacked after his death, had built an immense army of terracotta sculptures 8,000 soldiers, 130 chariots with 520 horses and 150 cavalry horses. The find was unearthed by a farmer in 1974. The majority of the army is still buried in the pits.

The Minnesota delegation flew out of Xian Sunday for the long journey home. Overall, it was an eye-opening experience. "The people I saw were friendly," Haag said. "Most were walking and riding bikes or scooters. The status is to have a car."

To control the traffic congestions, license plates have numbers and certain numbers can't drive on particular days.

"The cities were clean," Haag said. "There were always people sweeping and picking up garbage, but there was lots of smog."

The Eden Valley farmer also had a few chances to rub elbows with the governor. "He flew in economy class with us and came and sat in the back of the bus once," Haag said.