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Meeting the President, Selling the Beans

This interview is also available on Spotify and Apple Podcasts.

A president, one of the richest men on the planet, and a global visionary walked into a room in San Francisco. Another president did, too. Grant Kimberley, a sixth-generation Iowa farmer, got yet another reminder that this wasn’t just an ordinary trade mission.

“We had a short, private meeting with President Xi (Jinping),” Kimberley told American Farmland Owner, “right after President Biden.”

Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and owner of X (formerly Twitter), and Tim Cook, CEO of Apple, also met with Xi during the trip.

RELATED: This CNBC story details the other VIPs who were among President Xi’s dinner guests in San Francisco. Read that story here.

Presidents Xi and Biden
(China’s President Xi Jinping and President Joe Biden during APEC in San Francisco on November 15th. Image courtesy: AFP via Getty Images.)

Kimberley didn’t just happen to make his way into a private meeting (along with a group of other Iowans) with China’s president by accident. He is executive director of the Iowa Biodiesel Board and the director of market development for the Iowa Soybean Association.

“This is really citizen diplomacy at work. In order to stay out of conflict, we need trade with each other,” Kimberley said.

Nearly 40 years ago, Xi – who was a local official back then from the Hebei Province -- visited an Iowa farm and formed lasting relationships with a number of the state’s residents, including its former governor Terry Branstad. Branstad, the nation’s longest-serving governor, later became U.S. Ambassador to China during the Trump administration.

Xi refers to the Iowans he met during that 1985 visit as “old friends.”

RELATED: This Des Moines Register story looks at Xi’s visits to Iowa over the years and the bonds that he made in the agricultural state. Read that story here.

The Chinese delegation wanted Kimberley at this meeting with Xi, who had traveled to San Francisco and met with Biden on November 15th. It was the first time the two presidents met in person in a year. Tensions between the countries had only grown over that time.

Some members of Congress and governors across the United States worked to ban Chinese ownership of American farmland amid concerns that the Chinese could gain a stronger control of food production.

RELATED: President Joe Biden and Chinese President Xi Jinping agreed to work together on measures including climate change, reducing illegal fentanyl and re-establishing military communications. Read the story on those conversations from the Associated Press here.

Xi’s visit was part of the annual Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Conference (APEC), a regional economic forum established in 1989.

Kimberley understands the importance of Xi’s visit but also that country’s significance to the soybean industry.

“It is tricky time in U.S.-China relations…that’s for sure,” he said but added, “It’s a market that you can’t ignore.”

Kimberley pointed out that China buys 60% of the world’s soybean production, so U.S. farmland owners and Chinese consumers need this partnership to not only continue but also to flourish.

“We need to engage,” he said.


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