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China's vice president visits Iowa farm as nations sign 5-year agriculture, food safety pact
DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) ' Top agriculture officials discussed ways to feed the world's growing population during the first U.S.-China agriculture symposium Thursday, and Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping got a chance to see how Iowa farmers are helping.
Xi headed into Iowa's sprawling farm country shortly after opening the symposium in Des Moines, where officials from both nations signed a five-year deal to guide discussions on food security, food safety and sustainable agriculture. China became the top market for U.S. agricultural goods last year, purchasing $20 billion in U.S. agricultural exports, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Xi, expected to become president next year of the world's most populous nation, climbed into the cab of a John Deere tractor at a 4,000-acre farm near Des Moines and chatted with fifth-generation farmer Rick Kimberley. He asked detailed questions about farming techniques in Iowa, the nation's largest producer of corn and soybeans.
"He said the tractor really felt comfortable. He really enjoyed that," Kimberley said after the visit.
It was a reunion of sorts for Xi, who nearly three decades ago visited Iowa to study agricultural techniques and learn about corn production. He'd insisted on the stop in Iowa, and the farm visit capped the Midwest leg of his visit to the United States. Xi left for Los Angeles later Thursday.
Xi was joined by U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and China Minister of Agriculture Han Changfu during the symposium. In his opening remarks, he said agriculture was an essential industry.
"Food security, energy security and financial security are three main areas of economic security in today's world," he said. "To promote international agricultural and for cooperation from a strategic perspective is of major and long-term significance."
He also talked about the seven years he spent as a young man in a western Chinese province working on farms, adding that "agriculture, rural areas and farmers have a special place in my heart."
During his visit to Kimberley's farm, Xi asked about precision planting and fertilizer placement. Kimberley explained that the tractor is equipped with GPS navigators that help farmers to space seed at precise measurements and apply fertilizer, herbicides and pesticides in exact amounts for maximum yield.
Xi also was curious about how farmers market their crops, store and dry grain, and deal with less-than-perfect weather.
Before touring the equipment, Xi met with Kimberley and his family inside his home, where the discussion centered on family farming and passing on the farm to future generations.
"He is a very nice man," Kimberley said. "And one who wants to build relationships."
That seemed to be theme of his visit to America's farm belt.
The strategic cooperation agreement signed by Han and Vilsack on Thursday afternoon outlines mutual goals and responsibilities of each nation and details how the U.S. and China will address issues of food safety, security, sustainability and trade that are common to both.
"It charts the course and gives us a guiding document that we can reference and, over time, refine and improve," said Scott Sindelar, the agricultural minister counselor at the U.S. embassy in Beijing, who attended the Des Moines conference. "The environment that we deal with is constantly changing and it's important that we have these kinds of reference points for the programs that we do have."
Holding the first ever symposium on agriculture at such a high level and in conjunction with the visit of Xi has provided an unprecedented opportunity for the agricultural economies of both nations, Sindelar said.
Vilsack also called the symposium a historic opportunity and said one of the strongest links in the countries' relationship is centered on agriculture. According to the USDA, the value of U.S. farm exports to China supported more than 160,000 American jobs last year across a variety of business sectors.
He also said the two nations will have to work together to help feed a growing global population.
"We have the responsibility and opportunity to work together to address the causes of global hunger that effect more than 925 million people. Current populations trends mean that we must increase agricultural production by 70 percent in the year 2050 to feed nearly 9 billion people," he said.
Chinese agriculture minister Han said the agreement provides key areas in which the two countries can promote steady development of agriculture, and he believes the discussions will deepen China-U.S. agricultural exchanges and cooperation.
"They will make our agricultural sectors better developed, rural areas more prosperous and our farmers better off," he said.