Deals to boost Illinois soybean sales to China

By Kathy Bergen
Posted Jan. 20 at 6:00 p.m.

China’s growing appetite for Illinois soybeans was on display Thursday at a ceremonial signing of purchase agreements that could trigger as much as $450 million in Illinois soy sales to Chinese companies this year.

The potential sales represent a hefty slice of business for Illinois farms and soy operations, which have seen agricultural exports to China grow in recent years to more than $500 million annually, from $149 million in 2007, according to data from Gov. Pat Quinn’s office.

“One of four (soybean) acres in Illinois is producing soybeans for Chinese customers,”  Sen. Mark Kirk (R-Ill.), said during the ceremony at the Hilton Chicago.

Quinn and Kirk  welcomed buyers from 24 Chinese companies, who penned agreements with more than a dozen firms with Illinois operations. China’s vice minister of commerce, Wang Chao, also was there.

Archer Daniels Midland, Cargill, CHS, Columbia Grain Trading and Louis Dreyfus were among the companies that participated in the purchase agreements, which together could generate $1.8 billion in sales for U.S. firms. About a quarter of that is expected to flow to Illinois operations.

The event was part of the build-up surrounding the arrival of Chinese President Hu Jintao for a two-day visit to Chicago. More purchase agreements are expected to be signed Friday.

“The sky’s the limit for soybeans, and we all know China is the largest country on earth and has lots of mouths to feed,” Quinn said in a press conference after the ceremony. He noted the other uses for the crop,  fuel and plastics, as well.

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