May 31, 2018 | Cary Sifferath
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Global Network Drives Grain Export Success

U.S. Grains Council’s worldwide staff is able to quickly respond to new opportunities

Global Network Drives Grain Export Success

Staff and members of the U.S. Grains Council like to say the sun never sets on the organization’s work to promote U.S. corn, barley, sorghum, DDGS and ethanol. 

Our membership — a diverse representation of grower organizations and agribusinesses — recognizes that demand supports farmgate prices and has aligned global resources to capture near-term opportunities for U.S. coarse and co-product sales and build long-term demand among global customers. 

Building a global network

The key to the Council’s effectiveness is a robust global network of full-time staff and numerous consultants. Through full-time staff and consultants in the right geographic locations, the Council invests in retaining and attracting the best talent and technology to enhance the effectiveness of our work. 

Consultants keep the Council flexible and able to shift quickly to respond to new opportunities. They also provide a higher level of technical expertise in areas like ethanol and nutrition. Some consultants have worked for the Council for decades, becoming dedicated voices of U.S. agriculture in the countries where they operate. Other consultants also work on a part-time or as-needed basis in markets that need less attention. 

The Council engages staff and consultants based on the skills and contacts needed in a particular market. 

In the past, the bulk of global network had backgrounds in animal production or nutrition. In today’s rapidly changing trade environment, however, the Council has expanded its staff and consultant portfolio to include grain traders, ethanol specialists and very specialized nutritionists to address increasingly sophisticated world markets. 

The Council’s Mexico office is a good example of the mix of full-time staff and consultants. Full-time staff with marketing and administrative expertise are supplemented by two ethanol consultants and three nutrition consultants. 

These consultants have very specific and targeted talents that they now put to work for the Council. For example, Stephan Wittig, USGC ethanol consultant, previously worked as a chief strategy officer for Grupo Baltico, Mexico’s biggest ethanol producer and distributor, where he established Oxifuel® E100 Fuel Retail Stations, helping the group become the first private fuel retailer. 
Working together, Wittig and the rest of the staff and consultants in Mexico defend and expand U.S. exports in one of largest and most important markets for almost every U.S. coarse grain and co-product the Council promotes. 

Implementing programs

Implementing programs related to technical education, trade servicing and trade policy is the foundation of the Council’s work on the ground. But its network also serves another important function — looking for market 
opportunities as they arise. 

Staff and consultants have contacts with key individuals in the market. Their communication back to the headquarters office about what is going on around the world is essential to identifying how we can help the United States capture short-term demand opportunities and solve issues faster and more effectively. 

A good example of this flexibility in action came in 2016 when South Africa, typically a significant corn exporter, suffered from a severe drought and needed to import corn. While the United States had an exportable supply available, the South African government had not approved numerous biotechnology traits, creating a technical barrier to U.S. corn exports. 

The Council, supported by Heiko Koster, a long-time USGC consultant in South Africa, worked extensively with the South African Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries to address their concerns. 

As a result, DAFF announced in December 2016 it would immediately eliminate the biotech restrictions on U.S. corn imports. Subsequently, the South African government issued 15 permits authorizing the import of 1.3 million metric tons of white and yellow corn from the United States. 

Creating and expanding markets for new co-products

The Council’s diverse membership of grower organizations and agribusinesses support these efforts to find and capture demand for U.S. feed grains and co-products. 

Membership is heavily invested in global network expansion, allowing the Council to attract and retain high-quality staff and consultants around the world. 

In 2017, the Council added a second full-time representative in Vietnam, a marketing specialist focused on Western Mexico and a new consultant in Egypt. Each of these countries represents an area of growing feed demand, which this additional manpower will enable the Council to more effectively capture. 

The supportive membership also allows for its global network to evolve over time as value-added opportunities arise. 

In 2004, the Council started promoting DDGS to the world market. This new ethanol co-product expanded the portfolio of commodities to market to buyers and end-users. Whether talking corn, sorghum, barley or DDGS, staff could determine which commodities best fit and market the U.S. advantage in their individual markets. 

In the case of DDGS, the Council’s long-time marketing efforts and technical support on the ground in Vietnam have assisted the local feed industry in understanding how to use U.S. DDGS and led to increasing inclusion rates for this feed product in the Vietnamese swine and poultry sectors. 

Tran Trong Chien, an international consultant in Vietnam with USGC, has played a key role in this effort. Chien has been involved with the Council since 1996, when he was working for a large feed and poultry company that was setting up a feed milling, poultry and swine business in Vietnam as well as previous work with the Vietnamese Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development. 

Since that time, Chien has been involved in the work growing demand for U.S. coarse grains and co-products as the feed, swine, poultry, dairy and aquaculture industries have expanded. Vietnam rapidly ramped up consumption levels, becoming one of the largest markets for U.S. DDGS, reaching 986,000 metric tons of imports in the 2015/2016 marketing year.

However, when Vietnam temporarily suspended DDGS imports following the detection of quarantine pests in October 2016, Chien played an essential role in bringing together the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and the Vietnamese Plant Protection Department and industry members. 

As a result, the groups worked together to address the Vietnamese government’s concerns and helped return open access to one of the fastest growing feed markets in the world in eight months, compared to the years-long process more often the case with sanitary-phytosanitary issues.   

While Chien worked to settle the trade issues in Vietnam, other staff and consultants were finding new or burgeoning customers for U.S. DDGS. 

Numerous customers increased purchases including Mexico, Turkey, South Korea, Canada, Saudi Arabia and even New Zealand. As a result, U.S. DDGS were sold to 54 countries in the 2016/2017 marketing year and exports of 11.1 million metric tons stayed steady with the previous marketing year and above the previous five-year average of 10.2 million metric tons.

Adding ethanol to the portfolio

Further expanding the work of the Council on a global scale, the pivot to promoting U.S. ethanol has required it to further add to and shift the network, ensuring the right people are in the right place to do this work well and quickly. Thanks in large part to member support, the Council has added consultants with ethanol expertise in several markets over recent years, including Mexico, Latin America, China, Japan and Pakistan. 

In addition, Tim Tierney joined the Council in November 2017 as the director of strategic marketing/ethanol. Based in Singapore, this new position seeks to capitalize on longstanding relationships and identify emerging opportunities for biofuels in North Asia. 
Ethanol demand is different than demand for feed grain products, but the addition of ethanol to the portfolio of products marketed by the Council allows country and regional directors to evaluate the best mix of U.S. products that can move into the market, whether that is feed grains, co-products or fuel. 

In many cases, ethanol promotion can add new energy to long-time, loyal markets. Japan, for example, is one of the largest and most loyal customers for U.S. corn, meaning the Council needs to defend market share in light of tough world competition. With ethanol, the Council has returned to a market access and expansion phase with a new commodity and large growth opportunities. 

In fact, the Japanese government recently shifted policy to allow imports of the oxygenate ETBE (ethyl tert-butyl ether) produced from U.S. corn-based ethanol, thanks in large part to the Council’s office in Japan working closely with the Japanese government and industry as they updated a sustainability policy. 

As a result, Japan will now allow U.S. ethanol to meet up to 44% of a total estimated demand of 217 million gallons of ethanol used to make ETBE, or potentially 95.5 million gallons of U.S.-produced ethanol annually.

The voice of U.S. industry abroad

No matter the specific commodity promoted or the trade policy issues that arise, the Council’s global network is the voice of U.S. farmers and agribusiness. 

Even if an individual farmer or exporter may be unaware of their actions, they work 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, across the world, speaking on our members’ behalf and looking for the next opportunity to increase demand for U.S. corn, barley, sorghum, DDGS and ethanol. ❚

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