The class began its first full day in Hong Kong with a welcomed and much anticipated hotel buffet breakfast. Shortly thereafter, the group rallied in the hotel lobby to prepared for the day’s travels and meet our hosts for the morning; Joseph Chan and Maureen Klarich with Maersk and Hailey Hui with the Illinois Department of Agriculture. Following a quick and surprisingly inexpensive cab ride to the ferry terminal (the equivalent of $3 US) and a somewhat slower trek through customs we boarded the ferry, Lian Gang Hu for a tour of the Pearl Delta on our way to mainland China. The group was impressed with the massive size and capacity the numerous container ships making their way in and out of port during our ferry ride and was surprised by the seemingly endless variety of vessels floating in every direction across the Pearl Delta.
One hour and a half long ferry ride terminated in Nansha, China and the class immediately transferred from ferry to bus to begin the next leg of our journey to the Maersk Container Port. Along the way elements of both “old” and “new” China were readily apparent from the 6-lane divided highway cross an open landscape of small fish farms and rickety-looking shacks to the numerous state-of-the-art structures being erected by crane that now overlook fields of rubber and banana trees. Additionally, it was interesting to see that residents of Hong Kong, despite more than 20 years of integration into China are still perceived to be foreigners or outsiders by the mainland as evidenced by their separated identification and the need to pass through Customs. Upon arrival at the Guangzhou South China Oceangate Container Terminal (GOCT), the group was taken out for a hands on tour of a working container port. The group watched intently as massive cranes loaded one vessel already docked, while another slightly larger ship made its way toward the docks with a gentle nudge from a tug boat. Our visit concluded with a hearty Chinese meal and a question and answer session with our hosts from Maersk back at the GOCT office building.
Following another short bus ride and a brief introduction to Cargill’s South China operations by our host for the afternoon, Joe Han we arrived at the Cargill Soybean Crushing Facility in DongGuan, near the growing city of MaChong. Upon our arrive, the group was welcomed by a large red banner reading “Welcome Illinois Agricultural Leadership Program…” and a small collection of employees and operations managers from the Cargill plant. Armed with safety glasses and bright-yellow, Bob the Builder-esque hard hats we proceeded on our tour of the facility. Many of the modern tools and technologies one might expect from a similar crushing plant back home in the US could be easily found; however in stark contrast the DongGuan plant relies on a great deal of manual labor to handle the more than 90% of its soybean meal output that packages and stores in bags. The plant has the capacity to crush a total of 1,800 metric tons daily with a daily refining capacity of 1,200 metric tons. Remarkably, no soybeans are grown in the region and as such all of their soybeans must be imported from their the US (September through March) or South America (April through August). Following our tour, we met with a contingency of Chinese representatives from Cargill and the USDA for a brief presentation and group discussion.
Our next, and final stop for the day followed the “soybean meal trail” from the Cargill crushing facility to a wholesale poultry market where many of the farmers who purchase and feed soybean meal produced at the plant come to sell their chickens, ducks and geese to wholesale distributors. We took a brief tour of the wholesale market and concluded the afternoon with a brief discussion with a poultry producer from Kwangfeng Chicken Farm in Guangzhou. It was very interesting to hear him explain the different Chinese selection criteria for breeding stock which put taste and texture first over raw protein yield per unit of feed. A slightly different perspective than one might encounter on the average poultry farm in the US. With a few parting goodbyes and an exchange of gifts, we loaded the bus for our long trek back to the Kowloon Shangri-La.