SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — It could have been mistaken for a classroom.
More than 40 people seated in a room, glued to a video screen and hanging onto the words of a man giving them detailed information about a complex topic.
Between 80,000 and 140,000 soybean seeds per acre. Both soybeans and corn planted in a 30-inch row. Fertilizer applied both in the furrow and next to it at planting, with corn getting an additional two to three applications of fertilizer during the season.
One hint that this was a bit different was the translator making it understandable for the Spanish-speaking guests.
It was part of the 2019 Illinois Grain Tour that brought agriculture representatives from outside the U.S. to learn the latest techniques and equipment being used to produce corn and soybeans, the nation’s two biggest crops and two of its largest agricultural exports.
This year, 42 people participated in the tour, including 35 from Mexico, four from Vietnam and three from El Salvador.
“We have a few grain farmers sprinkled in the group, but by and large these are corn and soybean product importers,” said Bobby Dowson, of the state Department of Agriculture’s bureau of marketing and promotion.
One of those was Ricardo Iraheta, of El Salvador, who works for a warehouse company that receives grain from the U.S.
“We are interested in how they produce the grain, how they store it,” Iraheta said as he walked through RTS Farms, a grain farm near Auburn. “The technology you use for the crop and the handling is very interesting for us because we need to know how to store it without damaging the grain.”
Compared to a few decades ago, the technology used on the farm is dazzling. At one point, RTS representative Tim Seifert explained how the operation is able to prepare its own chemical applications using electronics to create the precise mix for whatever field is being treated.
There was the phone app that can be used to check on yields. And Seifert ran out the farm’s drone, which can be used to monitor crop development from the sky. Seifert said the visitors aren’t allowed to walk through areas where plant research is going on, but “this puts their mind at ease that we’re constantly coming with new products.”
Farming techniques for various crops are similar regardless of where they are grown, Seifert said.
“We’d like to think we’re a little more technologically advanced, with our GPS, our guidance systems, out application tools and different things like that,” he said. “That’s why it’s really unique for these countries to come and see the benefits (of technology), why we are so successful in our production.”
“They want to see where their food comes from, just like everybody else,” Dowson said. “They’re buying food for their own countrymen and they want to see where it comes from, start to finish.”
The tours have been good for the Illinois economy, too. During the past five years, the state has tracked $352 million in sales tied directly to participants in the tours.
Illinois trade offices in Mexico City and Japan worked to recruit participants from Asia and Central America to participate in the tour. The participants also visited GSI in Assumption, which is the world’s largest producer of steel farm bins, commercial grain storage bins and grain silos.
And in addition to visiting agricultural facilities in rural downstate, the participants visited the CME Group in Chicago, where agricultural commodities among other things are traded.
The tour occurred this year as the U.S. continues a trade war with China that has damaged U.S. soybean exports to the country.
Seifert said he believes the U.S. had to do something about its trade imbalance and the President Donald Trump did what was necessary.
“Somebody had to do what President Trump is doing because trade was getting way out of whack,” he said. “We have been the bearer of the bad news because of what it’s done to our prices and what it’s done to our markets. The world still needs our food, it’s just at what cost or what are they going to have to pay for it.”