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Chinese delegation checks out Eastern Oregon gold

By RICHARD HAVERINEN East Oregonian | Sep 8, 2023 Updated Sep 8, 2023

Bob Zemetra, professor at Oregon State University, talks June 13, 2023, about techniques for growing winter wheat during a field day at the Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center in Adams. A Chinese delegation visits the center during the second week of September as part of a trip to explore importing crops from Eastern Oregon.

PENDLETON — The Pendleton Round-Up is many things to many people, but it might not have been thought of as a diplomatic attraction until next week, when a high-level delegation representing the People’s Republic of China comes to town.

For state Sen. Bill Hansell, R-Athena, his coaxing for a Chinese delegation to visit Round-up has been communicated for several years.

“I would almost without exception say, ‘I want to invite you to the Pendleton Round-Up, one of the great rodeos of the world, certainly one of the top three in North America,’” he said. “Having been to China, I knew that rodeos were kind of foreign to their culture, but they always seemed kind of interested.”

That Chinese interest in the American rodeo, and Hansell’s repeated invitations have finally germinated, as a delegation drawn from the China embassy in Washington, D.C., and from the China consulate in San Francisco, will arrive in Pendleton on Tuesday Sept. 12, and depart Sept. 15.

The delegation includes Consul General Zhang Jianmin, who has an ambassadorial rank, Minister of Economic and Commercial Affairs Lyu Jiang and Economic and Commercial Counselor Wu Peimin.

“They are particularly interested in wheat, hay and oil seeds, like Canola,” Hansell said.

Those three crops are very close to the earth, much like a 6-month-old Round-Up roping calf, and Oregon has sizable production in these, with which to court the China market.

“China continues to be Oregon’s No. 1 trading partner,” Hansell said. “The Chinese can buy wheat anywhere in the United States. Wheat is grown throughout. They can buy hay from wherever they want in the states if it’s available, because hay is grown from sea to sea, and oil seed much the same.”

Hansell said Canada is a competitive grower of those crops for the Chinese market.

“(The delegation) is coming to the Round-Up, which is only located in Oregon, and with that in combination, they’re going to look at our wheat, and our ability to supply it.”

The delegation’s visit includes plenty of meetings with local producers and scientists, including at the Columbia Basin Agricultural Research Center in Adams and with Oregon State University scientists and the presidents of OSU and University of Oregon.

Gov. Tina Kotek also will meet with the delegation and keep them company at the Westward Ho! Parade on Sept. 15.

“Our mantra is going to be, ‘Buy Oregon wheat, buy Northwest wheat, and what we have to offer,’” Hansell said.

Hansell said developing the market in China for Northwest agricultural products might be an easier sell to American officials than promoting native technology.

“On the world market, no matter how rough politically it may or may not be, you can see where processed goods, or machinery or equipment, or semiconductors and technology and electronics, is different from agriculture, which is pretty basic, meeting human needs, feeding people and livestock,” he said. “I’m hoping that we’ll be able to show why our ag products are worth considering and purchasing, to help our agricultural economy.”

Hansell said Round-Up is a magnet for Oregon.

“A lot of people are going to be here together,” Hansell said. “We’re showing (the delegation) Eastern Oregon hospitality. The Round-Up and Happy Canyon Board has been absolutely fantastic and they are pleased to help create trade opportunities for the agricultural sector, and Oregon’s a part of that.”

There will be a reception for the delegation in Hansell’s home in Athena.

His hometown is an island of people within an ocean of wheat, a visual that might make a positive impression on the Chinese contingent.

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