Renewable Farming

How personal friendships build foundations for global economic opportunities

Today’s Wall Street Journal features another story on the agricultural ties linking an Iowa farm family to Chinese president Xi Jinping. It underscores the fact that personal friendships and mutual trust offer the only enduring foundation for economic and cultural exchanges where both sides win.

Feb. 3, 2017 By Jerry Carlson — The WSJ story at this link describes how now-president Xi was an overnight  guest at the Muscatine, IA farm home of the Dvorchak family as part of an agricultural exchange. That was 30 years ago. Gary, a son of the Dvorchaks, was 21 then. Now Gary works as a consultant to Chinese companies in Beijing. And Iowa’s governor, Terry Branstad, is U.S. ambassador to China. Branstad encouraged U.S.-China trade missions and built many personal friendships in China, including a friendship with President Xi.

Such connections underscore the far-reaching, long-lasting impact of personal connections between people globally. I’ve seen that fundamental fact confirmed many times in the 38 years since Merrill Oster and I led Pro Farmer’s first farmer-to-farmer visits to China in 1979. We were often the first Americans which our Chinese farmer hosts had ever met. Merrill and I, who started Professional Farmers of America in 1972, saw farmer-to-farmer friendships as essential for U.S. agricultural export growth and global understanding.

Merrill wrote the feature, “China’s Impact on Your Land Value,” for the first issue of Pro Farmer’s LandOwner newsletter in March 1979. You can download a PDF reprint of that story here. Merrill’s observations on the market potential for U.S. soybeans and grains were conservative. In 1979 he wrote that Chinese annual demand for U.S. soybeans could grow to more than 18 million bushels. Today, China imports about a billion bushels of our beans each year. China’s electronic social networks plus internet trading sites are ramping up Chinese demand for non-GMO soybeans and other feedstuffs. Brazil has responded by forming a nationwide certified non-GMO soybean growers’ association. 

In late summer 1979, I led a second Pro Farmer delegation to China and wrote a followup feature in LandOwner:  “7 Ways You’ll Profit from China.” A link to a PDF copy of that feature is at this link.  American farmers and Chinese farmers proved to be almost instinctive friends. We found the Chinese farm families were strong capitalists at the core, despite years of communist restraint. Like U.S. farmers, the Chinese work hard, cherish their families, and bond firmly with the land they farm. 

Our Pro Farmer tour members sensed a rising hope for freedom among Chinese farmers on their ag communes, even in those first visits from the outside world in 1979. I wrote:  “This rebirth of the spirit could become the level on which Chinese and American people forge truly enduring friendships.”

Over the 38 years since, we’ve seen that renewal of spirit. It is blossoming and yielding fruit — not only in ag commerce, but in human connections.

A new network of personal friendships involving China was begun in 2014, when several Americans joined an international forum on food safety in Beijing. A prime organizer of that forum was Mr. Chen I-Wan, who has long experience as a national-level safety and disaster prevention advisor to the Chinese government. 

This morning, “Chenny” as we call Mr. Chen I-Wan, sent a group e-mail to the dozens of friends and participants in the Beijing food safety network. It describes the “ripple effect” of personal friendships begun in Beijing.

Chenny notes, with sadness, that the conference, intended to improve human health with safer food free of GMOs and herbicide residues (notably glyphosate), also reported that several of the conference participants are being hit with cancer. The latest of these is an Argentine food safety advocate, Ana Broccoli, who championed the battle against GMO/glyphosate impacts across her home country. 

Here’s Chenny’s message, which arrived this morning:

Dear colleagues,

Jerry Carlson Posted 2014-01-14  a report “Will this development spur demand for non-GMO crops?”  (This is a transcript:)

For the first time, a nationally famous TV personality is about to broadcast a hard-hitting documentary series on genetically engineered grains and their related chemicals — including concerns about their health impacts.

The interviews will include American farmers and scientists. It will launch in mid-February.

The TV star’s primary audience: 1.4 billion Chinese.

His name: Cui Yongyuan, star of the show Tell it to little Cui. It’s broadcast on China’s main TV service, CCTV, plus satellite and internet. Cui is also a TV favorite of overseas Chinese, including those in the United States.

The TV series is sure to intensify the debate among Chinese on the safety of genetically modified crops and related chemicals, especially glyphosate herbicide. It’s likely to go viral on China’s internet, just before the Chinese People’s Congress March 6, 2014.

The 68 minute released video can be viewed here:  (Editor’s note: The narration is in Chinese, but you can hear the U.S. participants’ comments in English.)

A number of our colleagues were intereviewed in the video:

Nancy Swanson, Zen Honeycutt and colleagues, Howard Vlieger, Robert Streit, David Schubert, Don Huber, Evaggelos G. Vallianatos, John B.Cobb, and others.

 (Attached is a photo of Chenny, Howard, Cui Yong-yuan and Miss Chen Kun who helped to translate Cui’s questions into English while in America.)

From left: Chen I-Wan, Iowa farmer Howard Vlieger, Cui Yong-yuan and Chen Kun in Beijing, 2014

Those who met us during the interviews surely remember that Miss Chen Kun was intellengent, knowledgable, fluent in English, charming, and an attractive professor at age of 30.

Unfortunately, about three months after we returned to China, we learned that Chen Kun was diagnosed with cancer, received operation and chemotheraphy in USA, returned to China for further treatments, but passed away about 1.5 years later.

During treatment, she kept WeChat communication with me, eager to learn the reaction of Cui’s video, and developments of our fight with the Ag Ministry, Monsanto, glyphosate, GMOs etc.

Among our colleagues, family contacts and friends, we are learning that many smart, young or middle age people are passing away, and learning that many more are suddenly diagosed with cancer.

With our memories of Ana Broccoli, Chen Kun and many others and to protect the health of many more children, young and middle age people, we have no alternative but must keep up our fight even stronger against these evil forces in 2017!

Best regards



Chenny’s mention of “Ana Broccoli” refers to an Argentine researcher who was tireless in assembling health evidence across her country which documents patterns of cancer and other illnesses, along with the epidemiology data linking diseases to the intensity and locality of agricultural sprays.  Ms. Broccoli presented a summary of her work at the international Food Safety Conference in Beijing in 2014.  Chenny made a PDF copy of her PowerPoint presentation available to us, and it’s available to you at this link — in honor and in memory of Ana, who recently died of cancer.