With Gov. Pat Quinn touring China here’s a look at the impact the China trade can have, starting with an Illinois town named after the Chinese capital.

By Benjamin Yount

SPRINGFIELD — The soybeans are still standing in Dan Farney’s fields in Tazewell County, but they won’t be for long.

In about two weeks, the acres and acres of soybeans that Farney has been cultivating this spring and summer will start their journey from Pekin in central Illinois to Bejing, China.

“Pekin is right on the (Illinois River). The beans can go down the river, through the (Gulf of Mexico) and on to China,” Farney said Tuesday from his farm southwest of Morton.

A lot more soybeans from Illinois will soon make a similar trek.

Gov. Pat Quinn, who is in the middle of an eight-day trade mission to China, announced Monday a deal that will allow Decatur-based agribusiness giant Archer Daniels Midland to sell 6.6 million bushels of soybeans to a Chinese food company.

The soybean sale only strengthens the bond between the Illinois agricultural industry and China as well as Pekin and Bejing, formerly Peking.

Pekin, south of Peoria, adopted its name because “from what I’ve always heard, the thought was … that if you went straight through the earth from Peking, China, you’d hit Pekin, Ill.,” said Pekin Mayor Lori Barra.

Barra said the name has stuck, even if the assumption of being antipodes was a bit off.

Illinois is emerging as one of China’s major trade partners, “the dominant player for the (import) of soybeans, which is one of (the) top two agricultural products in Illinois,” said Mike Doherty, a senior economist and policy analyst for the Illinois Farm Bureau, the state’s largest agricultural advocate and information group.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture ranks Illinois second in soybean production in the nation, harvesting more than 460 million bushels in 2010. Only Iowa produces more beans with last year’s crop topped at 490 million bushels.

The USDA said China is the top customer of soybeans from the United States, importing about 825 million bushels, or one-quarter of the total soybean crop, in 2010. The USDA estimated that 13 percent of all U.S. soybean exports originate in Illinois.

But soybeans aren’t the only exports.

Illinois is home to Deere & Co., the Moline-based manufacturing giant of John Deere farm equipment; Caterpillar Inc., the Peoria-based heavy equipment manufacturer; and other agribusiness giants, all of which are sending their products overseas, said Doherty.

“We do have a high proportion of the nationally recognized agribusiness companies in Illinois,” said Doherty.

Caterpillar and Deere are heavily involved in China. Caterpillar opened a new logistics center there in 2010. Deere this year opened a new manufacturing facility, where farm equipment is made to be sold in China.

Quinn’s trade mission is not just focusing on agriculture. The governor announced a second deal on Monday to partner with a Chinese wind turbine maker, Xinjian Goldwind Science and Technology Co., to help build a wind farm in Lee County in northern Illinois.

The delegation to China, which includes lawmakers and campaign donors to the governor, is costing taxpayers about $133,000. Quinn brushed off criticism of the cost last week, saying the price of the trip is worth the potential return on investment.

“You can squeeze a nickel and lose a half dollar,” Quinn said.

Quinn adds he wants to be the “promoter in chief” for the state.

Illinois needs a relationship with China, said Doherty.

“Illinois is more tied to the international market than most other states,” said Doherty. “And certainly more than the other Midwestern states.”

Leave a comment

The goal of our comment policy is to make the comments section a vibrant yet civil space. Treat each other with respect — even the people you disagree with. Whenever possible, provide links to credible documentary evidence to back up your factual claims.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *