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USDA Foreign Agricultural Service cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) held its 2019 Mexico Wheat Trade Conference June 2 to 4, 2019, which was perfectly timed to address trade policy concerns face to face with Mexican customers.

USW President Vince Peterson noted that the conference showed USW and its Mexican customers that shared challenges could bring them closer together to help navigate the policy issues and increase the efficiency and value of Mexico’s U.S. wheat purchases.

In marketing year 2017/18, U.S. wheat share of Mexico’s record total wheat imports declined. Representatives of Mexico’s milling association stated that new political rhetoric and trade policies prompted them to increased Russian and Canadian wheat imports and for the first time some wheat from Argentina. USW shared several public statements about the U.S. trade policies that helped reassure the buyers of the on-going commitment to service supported by the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program. In fact, USW has reason to believe this effort helped keep U.S. wheat off Mexico’s retaliatory tariff list related to U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs.

However, USW remained concerned that the relationship with Mexico’s millers remained precarious. In addition, approval of the new United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) on Trade was also uncertain. To help overcome these potential constraints, USW planned the Mexico Wheat Trade Conference that included many farmers and administrators representing state wheat commissions. The conference speakers covered a wide range of wheat quality, purchasing and logistical topics over two full days.

With so many logistical options for delivering wheat to Mexico, USW Regional Vice President Mitch Skalicky and his colleagues based in Mexico City who planned the conference emphasized commercial rail issues and opportunities in the program.

The flour millers that attended the conference in Cancún represented about 80% of the total 2018/19 U.S. wheat commercial sales to Mexico reported by USDA. José Luis Fuente is president of the millers’ national association and offered an inspired appeal to work together to tell officials in both countries that export opportunities must be improved, not restricted. He said his members know that U.S. wheat farmers, USW and USDA have done many things to tell that story. He added that this is a partnership based on affection that is backed by actions, but actions are more needed now in this unusual trade environment.

In marketing year 2018/19, Mexican flour millers did import 3.3 million metric tons (MMT) of U.S. wheat, more than any other country. Mexican millers continue purchasing U.S. hard red winter (HRW), soft red winter (SRW), hard red spring (HRS) and hard white (HW) at a fast pace in 2019/20.

Video reports from the USW Mexico Wheat Trade Conference are posted on YouTube at https://www.youtube.com/user/USWheatAssociates.

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In 2018/19, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) earned back a portion of its business in Nigeria through activities supported by funding from USDA/Foreign Agricultural Service Foreign Market Development (FMD) program and Market Access Program (MAP).

In September 2018, U.S. wheat farmers from Kansas, Oklahoma and Arizona traveled to Lagos, Nigeria, as part of a USW Board Team funded in part through FMD. Meetings were held at several flour mills where most managers said the shift will likely continue even though they know by experience that HRW offers consistent performance and usually higher quality milling characteristics than Black Sea wheat.

Taking advantage of the personal visits and with support from USW local and regional representatives at the meetings, the farmers review the advantages of HRW and other U.S. classes and how USW is supporting the industry’s efforts to continue improving HRW milling, baking and processing characteristics. News the farmers shared about exportable supplies of U.S. hard white (HW) wheat grown in Kansas, Colorado and Nebraska sparked much interest from the flour millers.

The benefits of HW include higher flour extraction, whiter color flour and low moisture levels that would help the millers overcome a significant part of the cost differential with Black Sea wheat. Hard white wheat at the time was about the same price as HRW, and the farmers encouraged the millers to consider bidding for some HW. The Team was quick to point out that scaling up HW production to the point at which exportable supplies are consistently available will take a long, sustained effort, but the industry is encouraged by interest in HW and continues to work toward improving milling and processing quality in new varieties.

Flour Mills of Nigeria (FMN), which owns an export elevator in the U.S. Gulf, immediately took advantage of the information shared during the Board Team to purchase U.S. HW. Eventually, FMN imported more than 137,000 MT of HW in marketing year 2018/19. Several other Nigerian mills based on trade servicing activities funded by MAP and more competitive pricing also significantly increased HRW imports by about 311,000 MT in 2018/19 to 1.1 million metric tons. That represents an additional return to farmers in Oklahoma, Kansas, Colorado, Nebraska and Texas.

USW continues to use MAP funding to maintain full time technical marketing consultants to represent U.S. wheat farmers and USW in Nigeria. The consultants recommend market development programs for Nigeria, gather marketing statistics and assist in market development activities and logistical support when necessary.

 

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Because no two crops are alike, the world’s flour millers, bakers and wheat food processors must have some assurance that the wheat they buy will meet their needs. That is why USDA Foreign Agricultural Service cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and its partner organizations collect and analyze samples of all six classes of U.S. wheat, compile results and share that data around the world every year.

Legacy organizations to USW first identified the need to quickly gather and share new crop data in 1960. Since then, wheat farmer checkoff dollars and Market Access Program (MAP) funding have been invested to publish a complete picture of each year’s harvest. This commitment to transparency offers confidence in the data that, together with the trade service and technical support also funded by MAP and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, help differentiate U.S. wheat exportable supplies from competing supplies from Russia, Ukraine, Europe, Canada, Australia and Argentina.

USW works with several wheat quality organizations, including the Federal Grain Inspection Service and the USDA/ARS Hard Winter Wheat Quality Laboratory, to collect, grade and analyze thousands of wheat samples from local elevators and sub-lot samples from export elevators. Sampling begins with early winter wheat harvest and continues until the U.S. hard red spring (HRS) and durum harvests are complete, usually by early October. The data is compiled by class and by production region. By late October, class reports and a complete USW Crop Quality Report are published on USW’s website and the Crop Quality Report is printed as a booklet in English, Spanish, French, Arabic and Mandarin.

USW then sends teams of farmers, wheat quality experts and representatives out to present that year’s data to its buyers. By mid-December, USW has presented current characteristics on grade factors, protein levels, flour extraction rates, dough stability, baking loaf volume, noodle color and texture and more for all six U.S. wheat classes to hundreds of buyers, millers and processors in more than 25 countries. Buying decisions are made because of this effort; some are acted upon quickly. For example, with information they learned at USW’s 2015 Crop Quality Seminar, millers in Portugal imported 36,500 metric tons of HRS for the first time in 3 years.

U.S. wheat crop quality data forms the basis for our farmers’ ability to compete in the global wheat market. Without funding from MAP and the support of federally-funded inspection and quality analysis labs, this essential service to overseas customers would not be possible. It provides crucial support to annual U.S. wheat export sales averaging more than 26 million metric tons per year.

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A Latin American and Caribbean Buyers Conference June 2016 in Portland, OR, sponsored by USDA Foreign Agricultural Service cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) with Market Access Program (MAP) funding and support from 9 state wheat commissions, set the stage for incremental wheat exports by 75 flour millers and buyers from 16 countries.

The increasingly competitive global wheat market puts a premium on in-person trade service and technical support to differentiate wheat supplies. The 2016 Buyers Conference created a collegial opportunity for wheat buyers to meet with farmers, U.S. based grain traders and technical experts on local supply chain visits, in seminar sessions and social activities. USW arranged for speakers on a range of relevant topics including U.S. wheat quality trends, logistics management, plant breeding methods and other key wheat price drivers that address specific constraints on U.S. wheat sales to these growing markets.

By increasing the basic knowledge of how to purchase U.S. wheat, for example, a flour miller in Haiti bought their first two shipments ever of U.S. hard red winter (HRW) after the conference, with plans to import more HRW. The miller noted that meeting with traders and millers at the conference opened talks about possible joint purchases. Two participants from a new flour mill in Honduras said they now have better information to consider additional U.S. wheat purchases from Pacific Northwest ports. An experienced Colombian buyer said seeing the whole process from varietal development to the farm and supply system was “amazing” and definitely increased his confidence in U.S. wheat quality and reliability.

To help overcome regional preferences for Canadian wheat, master baker Didier Rosada presented (in Spanish) evidence that blending two or more U.S. wheat classes can be less expensive and improve end-product quality. With this information and discussions at the conference, a large Costa Rican miller and food processor indicated it would likely increase U.S. soft white (SW) wheat imports for blending.

While it is not possible to quantify all additional U.S. wheat exports directly related to the 2016 conference, 2016/17 sales to Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean of 6.3 million metric tons (MMT) are up 23 percent over 2015/16. Sales of 3.5 MMT of U.S. wheat to South American markets represent a 70 percent increase in 2016/17 over the prior year.

Overall, the effort to identify how world market dynamics made U.S. wheat an attractive choice was a timely message for Latin American buyers. To help meet the growing demand for new and better wheat food products in the region they increasingly buy based on the kind of quality characteristics U.S. wheat classes offer. A survey of buyers at the 2016 conference showed that 64 percent believed the experience will help them compare U.S. wheat quality, while 70 percent said it would help them compare U.S wheat value, to competing origins. These are key objectives for USW in its trade service and technical support activities funded by the MAP and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program.

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U.S. wheat is seldom the least-cost option for importers, but it has a reputation for quality that adds critical value. Recognizing that quality starts with the seeds farmers sow, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) gathers feedback from its overseas customers that is shared with the scientists who breed new wheat varieties at home.

With partial funding from the Foreign Market Development program, for example, USW and state wheat commissions in Oregon, Washington, North Dakota and Minnesota organized a Wheat Quality Improvement Team (WQIT) of four university wheat breeders to meet with customers in Japan, Korea and Thailand April 18 to 26, 2015.

The breeders heard what wheat buyers, flour millers and wheat food producers like and do not like about U.S. soft white (SW) and hard red spring (HRS) wheat quality. At the same meetings, the breeders informed these customers about their work to improve the quality and yield potential of newly released varieties. This was the fourth WQIT led by USW. In 2004, a similar trip was made to Asia, followed by Latin America in 2009, and Europe and North Africa in 2010.

The team also took part in an Overseas Variety Analysis (OVA) program event at the UFM Baking School in Bangkok, Thailand. Through OVA, USW creates direct comparisons between U.S. varieties and competing wheat supplies. Working with the Wheat Quality Council, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, state universities and wheat commissions, USW selects new varieties to mill and sent to overseas cooperators in top markets who analyze their quality in end-use projects and compare them to standard control flours.

Feedback from the OVA program and this year’s WQIT will bring results home to the farm. The next step for the WQIT is to apply the feedback and observations to research and wheat breeding programs, as well as share insights with other breeders, wheat producers and invested state wheat commissions. The OVA data will be shared with state wheat commissions and the Wheat Quality Council to set quality targets for breeding research and to develop recommended variety lists for farmers.

These activities create a primary basis for continual improvement in U.S. wheat quality that in turn supports import demand each year. USW used the Foreign Market Development program help fund the recent WQIT and the Market Access Program to engage customers and breeders through the OVA program.