The United States remains the leading provider of high-quality grains to the global marketplace; however, can we be expected to maintain that position forever? FEED & GRAIN looks at how the industry is positioned and the factors which impact our place in the grain quality equation.
What is Quality?
Quality means many things to many people. To some it’s a style of management that improves your business via TQM. Others use it as a way to wish someone well, without really meaning it; “Have a quality day!” says the perky clerk behind the counter.
Or, if you’re a little older like myself, it was a way to ensure my television set was manufactured to some undefined industry standard that the advertising told us was a sacred pact between manufacturer and customer: “Quality goes in before the name goes on!”
With messages promising enhanced quality of almost any product available to mankind slamming us through every media outlet, does anyone wonder if the overuse of the word “quality” has diminished its true meaning? In the world of consumer marketing, one could make a case that quality has become a throw-in phrase used to shed a more positive light on a product, service or system.
For our discussion, the question becomes how does the feed and grain industry view quality and does it run the risk of talking the talk without walking the walk.
High Stakes Game
With $6.00 corn, $13.00 soybeans and wheat prices inching back up to the $10.00 mark, this unprecedented price environment has created a marketplace where the stakes for creating and maintaining a reliable and consistent supply of high-quality grains has never been higher.
“Certainly, the dynamics of grain quality are constantly changing and that presents new challenges which need to be addressed at the farm level, at the elevator and in the processing chain,” says Dirk Maier, department head, Grain Science and Industry, Kansas State University. “With the rising costs associated with producing, protecting and procuring grains, keeping a consistent, high-quality supply of grains moving through the channel is critically important for our end user customers.”
As the stakes have risen on the value of high-quality grains, so have the stakes for whose job it is to produce and bring that crop to market.
In the face of unprecedented demand and rapidly dwindling carryover inventories, seed suppliers, input providers, producers and facility plant managers are all feeling the added pressure of not only high quality, but at a high quantity.
“Quality can be very subjective and hard to define but a good place to start is looking at the intended use of the grains,” notes Jim Bair, vice president, North American Millers Association (NAMA). “The differences between end-user needs of the feed and livestock community, between those of the food industry, are in some cases, quite extreme.
“Nevertheless, both customer groups have demanding and exacting quality standards that their supplier base must adhere by, in order to meet customer desires with confidence,” Bair adds.
What Customers Want
While Maier and Bair’s perspectives on grain quality are often centered on different ends of the grain quality spectrum, the driving forces which shape these unique and different perspectives indeed revolve around the central theme of satisfying customer/end-user demands.
OK, this sounds pretty easy. Keep your customers happy and all your quality issues are answered. Well, it’s not quite that simple.
Take the food industry for example. In just the baking category alone, there are thousands of options for end uses for grains, which translates into thousands of opportunities to satisfy — or disappoint — a finicky consumer base.
“In the milling and baking world, end-product performance is a key driver of our quality scorecard,” Bair explains. “Customers will work with those suppliers who deliver product that performs consistently during the baking process.