While we’re dreaming about traveling and seeing new places again, we talked with one of our teammates who took his ag expertise overseas shortly before the COVID-19 travel restrictions were in place. FNB’s crop insurance specialist, Tyler Urban, visited Vietnam and Cambodia in February to learn about their respective ag industries and their trade relations with the United States.
The visit was part of Class X of the South Dakota Ag and Rural Leadership Program (SDARL). This program, offered by the South Dakota Ag and Rural Leadership Foundation, is part of the foundation’s mission of developing leaders in South Dakota’s ag industry through continued education and leadership training.
“The program consists of 12 seminars over the course of 18 months that focus on bringing together leaders from all across South Dakota to better learn and grow in their leadership,” Urban said. “We attended 10 different seminars throughout South Dakota, as well as a week-long program in Washington D.C., and culminated with our international experience in Vietnam and Cambodia.”
Ag in Vietnam and Cambodia
SDARL’s visit to the two countries represents the U.S. ag industry’s need for new trade partners. South Dakota’s major exports to Vietnam and Cambodia include soybeans, soybean meal, beef, pork, and chicken. In addition, the group saw and learned about ag practices in both countries.
“The overall farm size is so small compared to anything in the U.S., and specifically South Dakota,” Urban explained. “The average farm size is less than one acre there, and in South Dakota, it’s around 1,400 acres. This makes the need for large tractors and combines nonexistent there.”
Vietnam and Cambodia are in the world’s top-ten exporters of rice, with the Mekong River delta pegged as “the rice bowl” of Vietnam. However, the group learned quickly the differences between farming rice and farming corn and soybeans.
“The most mechanized part of their agriculture is harvesting rice with a combine that has a seven-foot head on it, where U.S. rice combines would have 30- to 40-foot heads on them. The fields and infrastructure to haul to rice are both so small that large U.S.-style farming would likely never be practical.”
An important part of being involved in ag today – producers having a supportive banking team of industry experts behind them – was another point of distinct difference between the U.S. and Vietnam.
“Lending in Vietnam is really in its infancy compared to the U.S.,” Urban explained. “Since no citizens own any real estate, collateral is hard to come by; therefore, interest rates are much higher than we are accustomed to here. There were also only a few banks that seemed to rule throughout the country. It really gave me an appreciation for working at a local, community bank that is committed to doing great things for our communities, our customers, and our employees!”
Understanding Political and Economic Differences
When talking about Vietnam, it would be impossible not to talk about the war that took place. Urban said he was not sure what to expect or how their group would be received, but left with a greater appreciation for the sacrifices made by our service members.
“We toured a few things related to the war, one being the “American War” museum and another being the Cu Chi Tunnels,” he said. “While I already held our veterans in high regard, seeing these in person has given me an even greater respect for those brave men and women.”
Urban says he expected evidence of Vietnam’s communist party to be more widespread. However, he learned that the country is now essentially communist in name only. The communist ideology resides largely with their baby boomer generation, and most of the country is relatively young.
“With that, they have a desire to work hard, make more money, and see what the rest of the world is all about,” he said. “To most of us, it appears that capitalism has hit the country so fast, that the government doesn’t know how to stop it, nor does it appear that they really want to. This will be interesting to follow in years to come.”
Taking a Global Perspective
Our bankers understand the important role of agriculture to South Dakota and the world, which is one of the things that sets FNB apart. 135 years ago we got our start in ag banking, and our commitment to ag remains to this day, as we are active in the industry and in our communities.
For example, in November, our Ag Banking team met with a trade delegation from Egypt. We also annually offer producer education opportunities for ag banking customers and encourage leadership opportunities like Tyler’s experience with SDARL.
To learn more about how our Ag Banking team could help you and your operation, you can contact them here.