The fields of America’s breadbasket seem like a long way from the enormous cities dotting the Chinese coast, yet, every farmer and rancher in the Midwest knows how important the Chinese market is to our communities. Recently, Chinese trading partners completed $5.3 billion in contracts with Iowa soybean farmers, who will send more than 13.5 million metric tons of soybean products to China over the coming year. Americans are uniquely competitive in the food and agriculture industries, and China, as the largest international market for their goods, grows in importance every day. Yet, without the right protections for our expertise and action by our leaders to ensure a level playing field, we risk losing that expertise that keeps us competitive worldwide.
According to AgriPulse, in 2012, American farmers sold “more commodities in North Asia than they did in North America.” Our food supply is safe and stable, and our production levels are unrivaled. All of this comes with major investments at home. Iowa’s colleges and universities attract some of the best and brightest agricultural students in the world, which is one reason that the U.S. is recognized globally as the epicenter of agricultural developments. $2.4 billion is spent on public U.S. agricultural research every year, and even more is spent in the private sector. These research dollars eventually are returned to our farms and feedlots and then eventually to our tables.
With so much upfront investment, it’s no wonder that producers in other countries and their governments are envious of our success — and that they seek out shortcuts to achieve the same results. Reports of Chinese agents patrolling Iowa cornfields to collect seeds for laboratory studies to be conducted back home have brought arrests by the FBI and a greater awareness of the problem of intellectual property theft for growers and processors. A recent news piece noted the “The Department of Justice maintains that China is quietly permitting and even encouraging companies to steal American agricultural secrets right out of the ground.” Big hybrid producers like Monsanto, Syngenta and DuPont are the most frequent targets, yet the ripple effect for these crimes is wide. This should worry all of us. After billions of dollars in research, even more in testing, application trials and the sweat of hardworking Americans to take our production to record high levels, we cannot afford to give it all away.
The theft of trade secrets is all too frequent in foreign markets. Last year, the Illinois-based food processor OSI Group was targeted in Shanghai, after a raid on its plant orchestrated by state-run media and local officials put their hard-won intellectual property and their impeccable reputation at risk. China’s previous food safety track record makes targeting like this not surprising, but deeply problematic for the competitiveness of a major vehicle of our economy.
One in three acres on American farms is planted for export, and more than a third of Iowa’s economic output comes from the agriculture industry. Gov. Terry Branstad has a long-standing relationship with Chinese president Xi Jinping, the honored guest at a recent state dinner at the White House hosted by President Barack Obama. Photo ops aside, we need our state and federal leaders to lead on these issues, and act aggressively in support of the U.S. food and agriculture industry to protect the intellectual property Americans depend on every single day. For our farmers and ranchers, processors and producers, we can’t wait another day.
• Joy Philippi is a fourth generation farmer, and currently operates her family’s hog, corn and soybean farm in SE Neb. Philippi previously served as President of the National Pork Producers Council, advocating on behalf of the nation’s pork producers and processors in Washington, D.C. before members of congress, foreign government officials and local, national and international media outlets.