thumbnail

By Shawn Campbell, USW Deputy Director, West Coast Office

Wheat harvest is the culmination of a year’s worth of hard work and prayers. As the big day approaches, farmers contemplate many questions. What is the yield going to be? Is the quality going to be good enough to avoid discounts? Will the price go up or down? At the same time, on the other end of the supply chain, their customers are pondering many of the same questions.

Every year, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) sends a group of farmers (selected by state wheat commissions) to tour a region of the world and gain a better understanding of what customers want and need. Earlier this month, three U.S. farmers traveled to Mexico, Haiti, Ecuador and Chile, including: Rachael Vonderhaar, a wheat farmer from Camden, OH, and secretary of the Ohio Small Grains Marketing Program; Eric Spates, a wheat farmer from Poolesville, MD, and member of the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board; and Ken Tremain, a wheat farmer from LaGrange, WY, and member of the Wyoming Wheat Marketing Commission. Shawn Campbell, Deputy Director of USW’s West Coast Office, led the team and was joined by overseas staff based in the USW Mexico City and USW Santiago Offices.

“I wanted a better understanding of the full supply chain logistics from my farm to Latin America,” said Vonderhaar. “The trip was a big commitment of time and energy away from our farming operation, but necessary to understand the buying decisions of the millers.”

Spates added, “I hoped to learn about international wheat trade and what USW does, and I was not disappointed.”

In Mexico, the team found the largest importer of hard red winter (HRW) and soft red winter (SRW) wheat, an advanced milling industry and a well-funded association dedicated to constant improvement of the country’s baking industry. On average the past 5 years, Mexico has imported 4.4 MMT of wheat annually, of which 70 percent is U.S. wheat. However, thanks to competitive pricing and low ocean freight rates, the United States is facing increasing competition from Canada, Europe and the Black Sea Region. The customers the team met also expressed concerned about U.S. political rhetoric on the future of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

“It is important to keep our legislators aware of our buyer’s needs,” said Tremain. “Trade with our partners is vitally important and necessary for good relationships.”

The visit to Haiti, the least economically developed country in the Western Hemisphere, was a major learning experience for the team. Haiti imports 134,000 metric tons (MT) annually, 57 percent of which comes from the United States, with the remainder sourced from Russia, Canada and Mexico. Haiti is an underdeveloped market, but with a population of 10 million people, it is growing. The team got a firsthand look at the challenges USW overseas staff face in their efforts to promote U.S. wheat exports there.

“I was most surprised by the poverty in Haiti,” said Spates. “The conditions are emblematic of the varied and challenging places USW works, and yet Haiti is a market with great potential to import more U.S. wheat.”

In Ecuador, the team observed the country’s democracy in action as its citizens voted for its next president. Ecuador imports 710,000 MT of wheat annually, but only 33 percent comes from the United States, a marked difference compared to neighboring countries. Ecuador is a former favorite of the now defunct Canadian Wheat Board, which aggressively defended its market share there. Now USW representatives are working diligently to demonstrate the increased value to be found in U.S. wheat. A highlight in Ecuador was the tour of a cookie plant.

“We received many compliments on U.S. wheat quality,” said Vonderhaar. “But the buyers are definitely aware of weather issues that affect that quality from year to year and are very clear about their expectations for clean wheat.”

The journey’s final leg was to Chile, a country with a highly developed milling and baking industry constantly working to guarantee they receive the highest quality wheat at the lowest price. Chile imports an average of 845,000 MT annually, of which 45 percent comes from the United States. Major competitors include Canada and a resurgent Argentina, which is rapidly becoming a major exporter again since its government removed wheat export tariffs last year. The team met with several millers in Chile who were excited to show off their mills and quality laboratories.

The team members returned home with a greater appreciation for the nuances of overseas demand and USW’s activities to foster increased demand for their wheat.

“I am impressed with, and appreciate the strong personal friendships USW people have built within the region, said Vonderharr. “I want to make sure we are growing wheat that our Latin American millers and bakers demand.”

“USW has a complicated job promoting wheat around the globe as some customers are very receptive to their efforts, and some less so,” said Spates. “Hearing the millers emphasize the need for quality certainly reinforced my commitment to producing high quality wheat.”

“We have a responsibility to share with other farmers what we learned about the kind of quality our buyers expect from the United States,” said Tremain. “USW is vital in the promotion of our product.”

The team will report to the USW Board of Directors later this year. To see pictures from this and other USW Board Team trips, please visit the USW Facebook page at www.facebook/uswheat.

thumbnail

By Elizabeth Westendorf, USW Policy Specialist

U.S. wheat farmers are proud of their commodity’s role in U.S. foreign aid around the world, and the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Food Aid Working Group (FAWG) works diligently to support U.S. international food assistance programs. Food aid has always been an important focus of USW’s policy work, both to ensure wheat’s appropriate use in programming and to help protect and expand U.S. food aid programs. Wheat makes up 40 percent of U.S. in-kind food donations, making it the most popular commodity for aid donations.

To better understand the role of wheat in U.S. aid programming, USW Policy Specialist Elizabeth Westendorf led a team of U.S. wheat farmers, state wheat commission staff members and others to Tanzania to visit current USDA Food for Progress projects funded by wheat monetization. The team included: Mike Schulte, Oklahoma Wheat Commission Executive Director and FAWG Chairman; Reid Christopherson, South Dakota Wheat Commission Executive Director; Scott Yates, Washington Grain Commission Director of Communications and Producer Relations; Leonard Schock, Montana Wheat and Barley Committee Director and past USW Chairman; Ron Suppes, Kansas Wheat Commission Commissioner and past USW Chairman; Cathy Marais, USW Financial Accountant at the USW Cape Town Office; Brian Holmes, CFA Services Director;  Don Evans, Program Coordinator for Africa in the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) Office of Capacity Building and Development; and Nicola Sakhleh, Branch Chief of Food for Development in the FAS Office of Capacity Building and Development.

Tanzania is one of the least developed countries in the world, ranking 151 of 188 on the Human Development Index. Eighty percent of the population is involved in farming, typically at the subsistence level — and most farmers are women. Tanzania grows very little wheat and relies on imports to supplement that production. Those imports come primarily from Russia, but mills will buy smaller quantities of higher quality wheat for blending purposes, mainly from the EU, Argentina and Australia. USDA Food for Progress has five active projects in Tanzania focused on agricultural development, and wheat monetization funds four of those. In Tanzania, the team visited those four projects as well as the World Food Programme (WFP) and the mill that purchased the monetized wheat to fund the Food for Progress projects.

The team spent its first three days around Dar es Salaam. On the first day, the team met with Global Communities, which works with small and medium-sized enterprises in Tanzania, Kenya and Malawi. They also met with one of the project recipients, Basic Element, which is a corn and sorghum mill. Basic Element’s mill manager Abel Tabula said that with the help of Global Communities, they can source their inputs directly from smallholder farmers instead of relying solely on middlemen that aggregate purchases from smallholder farmers at a markup.

“We appreciate that the wheat we monetize comes from farmers,” said Simon Muli, Global Communities Deputy Chief of Party. “What you create in another part of the world is creating serious impact here.”

The team also met with Small Enterprise Assistance Funds (SEAF) to visit Hill Animals Feeds, one of their project recipients in Bagamoyo. Hillary Shoo started the company in 1993 and, with a loan from SEAF, he plans to increase his storage capacity, which will allow him to buy directly from smallholder farmers during harvest season.

The team spent an afternoon with WFP to learn more about emergency aid in Tanzania. USAID Food for Peace works with WFP to provide aid to refugee camps in the northwest region of the country, where there has been a recent influx of refugees from Burundi.

The team then spent a day at Bakhresa Mill and its baking facility to gain a better understanding of the wheat monetization that funds the Food for Progress projects. Bakhresa Mill purchased the wheat that funded four of the Tanzanian projects. Bakhresa’s Milling Director Arvind Shukla told the team that they fortify products going to poorer segments of the population, and purchasing the monetized wheat allows them to pass savings on to their consumers and sell their flour at a lower price. This way, customers in Tanzania also benefit from the monetization, in addition to those who benefit directly from the funded projects.

After Dar es Salaam, the team traveled to Morogoro to visit rural programs in the region run by Catholic Relief Services (CRS) and FINCA International. The CRS project, Soya ni Pesa, is a soybean value chain development project, geared toward helping farmers produce soy and gain access to the poultry feed value chain. CRS provides management and technical assistance to facilitate farmer growth. The project has stimulated a soybean price increase for farmers and benefits the feed producers by giving them better access to the soy inputs they need. The team met directly with some of the farmers in the program and learned about their challenges and successes.

The FINCA project provides loans to smallholder farmers, focusing on loans that are accessible to agricultural workers. USW met with several farmers who receive these loans. They shared what they have accomplished with increased access to credit. It has allowed many of them to increase their farm size, improve infrastructure and send their children to school.

Agriculture plays a crucial role in Tanzania’s economy, so improvements to that industry benefit the entire country. The four Tanzanian projects funded by wheat monetization work in different ways toward a common goal of agricultural development. Seeing the positive effects of those projects on the entire economy helped the trip participants better understand the role that U.S. wheat plays in the process.

“This trip helped clarify how the funding works, but more importantly, the big picture of the real purpose of the projects,” said Schock. “It was transformational for my attitude of world food production. As humans, and particularly as farmers, we must try to help those that want to help themselves, and that’s what these programs do.”

Pictures from this trip can be found on the USW Facebook page at www.facebook/uswheat.

thumbnail

Whether it is for noodles in Asia, bread in South America or cookies in North Africa, once U.S. wheat leaves the farm, the journey it will go on has only just begun. The choices U.S. wheat farmers make when growing their wheat plays a big role in that journey but they seldom see exactly how their practices impact those overseas markets and end-products. Every year USW sends teams of U.S. farmers overseas to visit markets they supply with wheat. These regional visits highlight the day-to-day work and marketing strategies of USW’s overseas offices and connect the farmers to their customers and industry stakeholders. Earlier this year, USW’s first 2017 board team travelled to Thailand and the Philippines.

“The purpose of these teams is to give U.S. wheat farmers a better understanding of the wide variety of markets and issues that USW works on to position the benefits of importing U.S. wheat,” said USW Deputy Director of the West Coast Office Shawn Campbell. “We aim to better educate growers on the challenges they face in marketing their wheat overseas, so they can make decisions at home and with their state wheat commissions that are focused on meeting customer needs.”Campbell will lead USW’s 2017 Latin America Board Team to Mexico, Haiti, Ecuador and Chile this month. The team includes: Eric Spates, a wheat farmer from Poolesville, MD, and a member on the Maryland Grain Producers Utilization Board; Rachael Vonderhaar, a wheat farmer from Camden, OH, and a member on the Ohio Small Grains Marketing Group; and Ken Tremain, a wheat farmer from LaGrange, WY, and a member of the Wyoming Wheat Marketing Commission.

The team will first meet at the USW Headquarters in Arlington, VA, for briefings, then visit USDA/FAS and the Federal Grain Inspection Service offices in Washington, DC. The team will then head to Mexico and Haiti for five days, followed by six days in South America with stops in Ecuador and Chile. The team will tour multiple mills and international food manufacturing plants, as well as an industrial equipment supplier, and they will meet with groups such as Seaboard and ASEMOL, the Ecuadorian Millers Association and Caribbean Milling. Throughout the course of the trip, the team will connect with staff from the USW Mexico City, Mexico, and Santiago, Chile, regional offices.

Latin American countries import 40 percent of all U.S. wheat exports, yet U.S. wheat faces growing competition in the region due to changes in laws affecting grain exports, as well as rebounding domestic wheat production that brings a new, large-scale source of lower value wheat into the marketplace. Due to its geographic location, consistency, and a preferential trade agreement, Mexico is the largest customer of U.S. wheat in the world so far in 2016/17 and is the second largest customer on average over the last five years. Year to date, Mexico is also the top buyer of U.S. soft red winter (SRW) wheat and HRW wheat.

Haiti, on the other hand, is a much smaller and more price sensitive market, versus the other quality oriented markets that the team will visit. In South America, Ecuador represents a moderate size market that is willing to pay for quality, but U.S. wheat faces strong competition. U.S. wheat holds the majority market share in Chile, but it is still a market where the United States is increasingly facing competition. USW has maintained close, long-term relationships with regional industry leaders through an office established in Santiago in 1978 and by providing technical and trade servicing in Mexico for more than two decades.

“These four markets represent buyers that USW staff work closely with each day,” said Campbell. “The farmers will gain a unique look at the value of using high quality U.S. wheat and why these markets increasingly prefer it for their end-products.”The team will post regular travel updates and photographs, and will report to the USW board later this year. Follow their progress on the USW Facebook page at www.facebook/uswheat and on Twitter at @uswheatassoc.

thumbnail

Montana farmer Denise Conover knows her wheat. She watches the markets, takes care of her land and stays up-to-date on current research to select the hard red winter (HRW) wheat varieties that will perform best on her farm. Once her wheat leaves the farm, she understands the valuable role everyone in the grain chain plays from the country elevator to the traders. But like many U.S. wheat farmers, once Conover’s wheat is loaded on a vessel and leaves the port, she knows much less about what happens to it next.

Every year, USW invites farmers (selected by state wheat commissions) to participate in teams that travel overseas to follow their wheat and offer the opportunity to learn from customers about the wheat quality characteristics needed in those markets. Earlier this month, Conover, a director on the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee from Broadview, MT, traveled to Thailand and the Philippines on the 2017 South Asia Board Team with Clint Vanneman, a wheat farmer from Ideal, SD, and a current USW director representing the South Dakota Wheat Commission, and Dustin Johnsrud, a wheat farmer from Epping, ND, serving his first four-year term on the North Dakota Wheat Commission. USW Communications Specialist Amanda Spoo led the team.

“Going on this trip was an opportunity for me to gain a better understanding of what our customers expect us to produce for them,” said Vanneman. “Exports are such an important part of the demand for U.S. wheat so it is important that we understand where we need to take our product and the value that USW has in marketing our grain.”

Conover added, “Now I see that so much of what we learned from overseas customers reflects back on the farm. It is amazing that the decisions we make on the farm carry forward to the end-users in other countries.”

The team visited customers and end users in Thailand and the Philippines, allowing them to observe the differences in wheat food production facilities and milling between the two countries, while also discussing U.S. wheat use in everyday products.

One of the highlights in Thailand was visiting the baking school run by United Flour Mill (UFM) Co., Ltd. USW has developed a very collaborative and productive relationship with the school since 1982, specifically to host preeminent bakery training courses led by USW Baking Consultant Roy Chung. The team also visited the UFM flour mill to see how integrated education has enhanced the return from its milling business.

“This is a resource for a huge area and multiple markets. The school brings in industry allies, bakers and millers to learn how to better utilize wheat. The fact that they are learning those skills using U.S. wheat makes this an essential part of our role in the market,” said Vanneman.

Another stop at a cookie and cracker company showed the team how generational changes and eating habits are shifting market preference and increasing the development of new wheat products in Thailand — and how USW activities help customers navigate new challenges and opportunities.

“Back in the United States we hear about the relationships USW has in overseas markets, but here we saw it on every level here. As farmers we can see the respect customers have for the trade service and technical support USW offers with USDA program funding,” said Conover. “We can go back and tell other U.S. wheat producers what we saw and heard, and that is going to carry more value.”

In the Republic of the Philippines, the team members were guests of honor at the 9th International Exhibition on Bakery, Confectionery and Foodservice Equipment and Supplies, known as “Bakery Fair 2017,” hosted by the Filipino-Chinese Bakery Association Inc. Vanneman was asked to give remarks on behalf of the team and all U.S. wheat farmers at a luncheon during the event. It was one of many opportunities for the team to talk about the HRW, hard red spring (HRS) and durum they grow and answer questions about their farms from customers. When Johnsrud spoke about the size and diversity of the farm he owns and manages with his dad and just one hired hand, many of the customers were shocked. All three farmers shared how weather, disease, transportation and other challenges can affect their farm from year to year and in turn affect the crops available for export — but they also highlighted how their commissions are working together to direct and fund public wheat breeding and research aimed at solving those challenges and improving both wheat quality and yield.

“We want them to know that we are listening. If we take anything home with us, I think it needs to be that we have to strive to show our breeders and other farmers that we need to keep our quality up as best we can,” said Conover. “If there is a variety out there that is not working, we need to get it out of the system.”

“Meeting with our customers shined a light on how strong the collaboration with USW is, and how essential it is to create greater preference for U.S. wheat,” said Vanneman. “Quality wheat and customer service lead to customer loyalty. The end-product user is loyal to our customers, which leads to stronger loyalty to U.S. wheat as a competitive supplier,” said Vanneman. The team will report to the USW board of directors later this year. To see pictures from this and other Board Team trips, please visit the USW Facebook page.

By Amanda J. Spoo, USW Communications Specialist

thumbnail

By Amanda J. Spoo, USW Communications Specialist

Every year USW sends teams of U.S. farmers overseas to visit markets they supply with wheat. These regional visits highlight the day-to-day work and marketing strategies of USW’s overseas offices and connect the farmers to their customers and industry stakeholders.

“The feedback we hear consistently from our customers is how much they appreciate getting to know the farmer firsthand,” said USW Vice President of Overseas Operations Vince Peterson. “These team visits give farmers the opportunity to follow their wheat overseas, and as businessmen and women, those personal connections are invaluable.”

USW Communications Specialist Amanda Spoo will lead USW’s 2017 South Asia Board Team to Thailand and the Philippines in February. The team includes Dustin Johnsrud, a wheat farmer from Epping, ND, serving his first four-year term on the North Dakota Wheat Commission; Denise Conover, a wheat farmer from Broadview, MT, and a director on the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee; and Clint Vanneman, a wheat farmer from Ideal, SD, and a current USW director representing the South Dakota Wheat Commission.

The team will first meet at the USW West Coast Office in Portland, OR, for briefings by USW and the Wheat Marketing Center, as well as visits to the Federal Grain Inspection Service and the local United Grain export terminal. During three days in Thailand, the team will visit the United Flour Mills (UFM) Baking and Cooking School as well as tour a flour mill, a bakery and an international food manufacturing plant. The second leg of the trip features two days in the Philippines, which includes tours of a mill and a food manufacturer. The team will also have the opportunity to attend the Filipino-Chinese Bakery Association Inc. (FCBAI) Bakery Fair.

The Thai milling wheat market has grown at a robust 5 percent for the past two years. USDA estimates that milling wheat demand reached 1 MMT for the first time in the 2012/13 marketing year and has increased to 1.24 MMT in 2016/17. Customers there imported about 50 percent of their milling wheat from the United States in 2015/16. In an evolving Thai market, consumer preferences are changing and there is increased demand for baked goods, biscuits and noodles. Over the past four decades, USW has worked closely with the UFM Baking and Cooking School in Bangkok to train and provide technical assistance to South Asian bakers and demonstrate the quality and value of U.S. wheat classes.

The Philippines was the third largest buyer of U.S. wheat in the 2015/16 marketing year with total imports reaching almost 2.2 MMT and was the largest buyer of both soft white (SW) and hard red spring (HRS). In this dynamic market, USW continues to help the milling and baking industry navigate changes by providing technical assistance and marketing training, and investing in activities to increase wheat flour consumption. USW established an office in Manila in 1961, allowing USW to maintain close, long-term relationships with industry leaders in the Philippines.

“Visiting these markets will give the farmers a unique look at the value of using high quality U.S. wheat and why these markets prefer it for their end-products,” said Peterson.

The team will post regular travel updates and photographs, and will report to the USW board. Follow their progress on the USW Facebook page at www.facebook/uswheat and on Twitter at @uswheatassoc.

thumbnail

Each year the United States exports, on average, 25 to 35 million metric tons (MMT) of wheat, which accounts for roughly 50 percent of the annual crop. This makes the voice of overseas customers important to wheat research. To demonstrate that importance, four wheat breeders will travel with U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) to Asia, April 18 to 26, 2015, on a Wheat Quality Improvement Team (WQIT).

The team will visit with buyers and end-users in Japan, Korea and Thailand to listen and exchange ideas. Their primary goal will be to gather input on wheat quality from key customers to inform their own research and to share what they learn with other U.S. wheat breeders upon their return. They will also share the successful efforts of the U.S. wheat industry to improve the quality of newly released varieties.

“It is vital that we actively listen to and respect the needs of our overseas customers,” said USW Vice President and West Coast Office Director Steve Wirsching, who will lead the team. “The impact breeders have on the industry and the livelihood of farmers is huge. Ultimately, if a variety offers higher yield potential but does not have strong milling or baking qualities that domestic and overseas customers need, farmers will feel that impact.”

This is 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. State commissions in Oregon, Washington, North Dakota and Minnesota identified and sponsored top wheat breeders from their land grant universities to join this team.

Dr. Arron H. Carter leads the winter wheat breeding and genetics program at Washington State University where his research focuses on breeding improved wheat varieties for cropping systems in Washington state that incorporate diverse rotations and environments.

Dr. Michael Flowers is an assistant professor and extension cereals specialist at Oregon State University where his research areas include variety trials, nitrogen management in hard wheat and management practices for new Oregon winter wheat varieties.

Dr. Mohamed Mergoum represents North Dakota State University as the Richard C. Frohberg Spring Wheat Breeding/Genetics Endowed Professor. His program’s main objectives are to develop modern and improved cultivars adapted to the spring wheat region and generate wheat germplasm with valuable economic traits required in cultivar development.

Dr. James Anderson is a professor in wheat breeding and genetics at the University of Minnesota where the program he leads researches genetic investigations of complexly inherited traits, including disease resistance and grain quality, and incorporating disease and pest resistance into new cultivars using marker-assisted selection.

The WQIT is a part of a larger USW effort to address the quality of exported wheat and the needs of importing countries. It is a logical next step to a 17-year-old program called the “Overseas Variety Analysis” or OVA program. Through OVA, USW cooperates with millers and bakers to compare the performance of flour from newly or soon-to-be released U.S. wheat varieties to the local country’s standards. Results — both good and not-so-good — are shared with breeders and with state wheat commissions who develop recommended variety lists for wheat farmers. USW currently works with 22 OVA cooperators around the world. During the upcoming trip, the team will participate in an OVA workshop at the UFM Baking School in Bangkok, Thailand, to hear directly from several Asian cooperators.

USW will post photos and other information from the 2015 WQIT on its Facebook page at www.facebook.com/uswheat.

USW is the industry’s market development organization working in more than 100 countries. Its mission is to “develop, maintain, and expand international markets to enhance the profitability of U.S. wheat producers and their customers.” USW activities are made possible through producer checkoff dollars managed by 19 state wheat commissions and cost-share funding provided by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. USW maintains 17 offices strategically located around the world to help wheat buyers, millers, bakers, wheat food processors and government officials understand the quality, value and reliability of all six classes of U.S. wheat.