“Be it protein content, test weights or gluten composition or whatever components are critical to the specific performance expectation of a given product, our customers crave consistency,” says Bair. “To our way of thinking, grain quality is defined by having a reliable supply of quality wheat that performs consistently in a variety of processing applications.”
Want a good example? Think about McDonald’s for a second.
Whether you’re in Moscow, Russia or Moscow, Idaho, the buns used for their sandwiches are identical in virtually every important aspect. Now for a company that has served multiple billions of customers since its inception, they have built a reputation for consistency that not only shapes and drives their internal product quality standards but, in a larger sense, reinforces the promise behind one of the most recognizable and powerful brands found on the planet.
Making Good on the Promise
The McDonald’s example can be replicated with literally thousands of brands and products as marketplace accessibility. Advanced technologies and broadening customer tastes has combined to create a truly global food and feed industry.
For years, the United States has earned the reputation as a provider of vast quantities of grain, which by and large, meets the needs of the food and feed industry, with the caveat that grain quantity had arrived at the expense of grain quality.
That said, how is the United States faring in its ability to meet the quality demands of an increasingly sophisticated and affluent export marketplace?
“From better stewardship at the farm level to better education of our customer base, the U.S. has seen a substantial decrease in customer complaints over quality, in the last 10 years,” says Ken Hobbie, president and CEO, U.S. Grains Council. “The long-time ploy used by our competitors that U.S. grain products were behind the curve in terms of quality holds little credibility today.”
When pushed further about the factors contributing to this marked improvement, Hobbie pointed specifically to enhancements brought by biotechnology and a focused effort to work more closely with customers.
“Biotechnology has allowed us to deliver a cleaner crop with less damage from pests and disease,” he adds. “Fewer stresses on the crop and advances in trait specific performance characteristics, such as high oil content, delivers advantages for our customers.”
From a customer service standpoint, the U.S. Grains Council and other grain organizations have made concerted efforts to work more closely with customers to educate them on topics such as uniform grading standards, seasonal buying strategies, milling and end-use performance, and identity preservation and traceability.
Bringing it into Perspective
Wrapping our hands — and our heads — around the grain quality issue can seem daunting at first. There are so many steps along the way that affect the end product and, therefore, can unleash a domino effect of changes to the quality profile, as an industry we’re probably best served by focusing our quality efforts on the fundamentals.
“This is both an exciting and challenging time for the grain science industry complex,” Dirk Maier reminds us. “Never before has the awareness of grain quality been more heightened; and the opportunity to enhance our ability to deliver a better product, been so readily available and universally welcomed.
“This could be the beginning of a bold, new era of collaboration and mutual discovery for the private and public sectors, and it’s incumbent upon the industry to keep quality top of mind in our research and product development efforts,” he concludes.