The highlights of Great Plains Wheat (GPW) activities promoting U.S. wheat in South America in marketing year 1976/77 included a baking seminar, equipment donations to the Chilean Milling School, translation of GPW’s “U.S. Wheat” bulletin into Spanish and the hiring of a new Grain Marketing Specialist named Alvaro de la Fuente by Regional Director Don Schultz in the Caracas, Venezuela, regional office. In 1978/79, this young Peruvian national moved to Santiago, Chile, which would be his base for the next 39 years, to serve with GPW Regional Director Robert Drynan. He was named Regional Director with the newly formed U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) by 1981.


Looking back on Alvaro de la Fuente’s long and successful career as he retires from USW as Regional Vice President, South America, is a study in how global wheat markets have changed. In 1977, there were no private wheat buyers in South America. Alvaro in fact came to GPW from a position with the government of Peru where he was responsible for purchases and imports of all bulk food commodities including wheat, managing an annual budget of US$380 million. Prior to that, he managed ocean freights for the same commodities.


That experience, along with his truly international upbringing as the child of parents in diplomatic service and his Louisiana State University bachelor’s degree in International Trade and Finance, were very valuable not only for his work with government wheat buyers, but also to successfully navigate the eventual shift to private wheat purchases in South America.


“That transition happened over the first 10 to 15 years of Alvaro’s career with U.S. Wheat Associates,” said USW President Vince Peterson. “The millers who had relied on the government now had to evaluate wheat quality, tender for the specifications they needed, arrange financing and shipping. Alvaro’s knowledge was ideal for the time and helped build a strong base of demand for U.S. wheat.”


Early on, most South American flour mills were relatively small and family owned, and Alvaro’s work was most welcome. But grain marketing skills were only one part of Alvaro’s success in the region. The value of his professional partnership along with his friendly, generous nature helped build beneficial customer relationships that endure to this day.


Alvaro can count among his many achievements helping to organize ALIM, the Latin American Industrial Millers Association in 1980. ALIM eventually granted Alvaro honorary membership in recognition of his founding efforts and contributions to the region’s milling industry. Over the years, he hired and helped train many of the colleagues who are now capably carrying on his work in the South American region and around the world.


“Everywhere I traveled with Alvaro, his customers always welcomed him as family,” Peterson said. “Alvaro and his lovely wife Betsy always did the same for colleagues, U.S. wheat farmers and state wheat commission representatives who were lucky enough to visit them and his team in Santiago. That personal warmth and the consistent results of his work, I think, will be Alvaro’s lasting example and legacy.”


All of us at U.S. Wheat Associates thank Alvaro for his work and friendship and wish him and his family a long and happy retirement.


Muchas gracias, Don Álvaro!




This week, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) is saying a fond farewell to two very dedicated colleagues. Ms. Sadako Ishida is retiring from her Program Assistant/Accountant position at USW/Tokyo after 40 years and, with the closing of the USW/Moscow office, Ms. Valentina Shustova is leaving her position as Office Director and Marketing Specialist after 25 years.


“Ishida-san has remained a good-hearted employee throughout her career with U.S. Wheat Associates,” said Wataru “Charlie” Utsunomiya, Country Director, USW/Tokyo. “There have been challenges, such as when former Country Director Takeo Suzuki was ill with cancer and passed away, but she overcame any hardship with a most positive outlook. I believe her loyalty and friendly attitude to her work and life benefitted our customers, the farmers we represent and all her colleagues. We thank her very much for her service and hope she will have a long and healthy retirement.”

Ms. Sadako Ishida (right) at the USW/Tokyo office with Country Director Wataru “Charlie” Utsunomiya. New Program Assistant Ms. Makiko Ochi is not pictured.


Sadako shared some information about her career with us that we want to pass along.


“I was introduced to U.S. Wheat Associates by an aunt of a friend who was working for one of the U.S. agricultural cooperator organizations. At the time (1978), Mr. Ron Maas was the Country Director who hired me,” she recalled. “At first, I was a clerk typist doing daily office work such as accompanying U.S. travelers to observe local mills, which was an experience I enjoyed very much. Then after our accountant left, my responsibility included bookkeeping. As the number of staff was reduced, I stayed mostly at the office ready for calls or visitors, assisting Mr. Suzuki and then Mr. Utsunomiya.


“I want to say thank you so much to all of USW colleagues for all the wonderful years. As I am a daughter of farmer myself, I have been very happy to be able to share common topics with U.S. farmers and have been very proud to provide a little help for them and our Japanese customers — including me.”

“Because of Valentina’s dedicated service to U.S. Wheat Associates and the farmers we represent, it was a difficult choice to close our Moscow office” Peterson said. “She remained an active participant in the Russian grain industry and provided very relevant information and perspective on the amazing changes that have taken place there. We sincerely thank her for her commitment and we wish her the best of luck in the future.”

Ms. Valentina Shustova, with a recognition of her 25 years of service given by her USW colleagues.

Valentina also shared some thoughts on this transition.


“The time has come to say good bye to all of you with whom I worked closely over the past 25 years,” she said. “I am proud and happy that I was privileged to work for and on behalf of the U.S. wheat producers in such a great organization and with such wonderful and talented professionals. Many of you have become my good friends. I will keep good memories of these years. Thank you all for that! I wish all the USW staff the best and success in the dedicated work for the benefit and prosperity of U.S. wheat producers.”


We wish both of our colleagues all the best.


By Matt Weimar, USW Senior Advisor and Regional Vice President, South Asia

After 34 years of service to U.S. Wheat Associates (USW), Shi Pu “Andy” Zhao is stepping down from his position as China Country Director. Andy joined USW in 1984 during the establishment of the Beijing Representative Office, serving as a driver and assistant to the country director and secretary at the time. In the early years of the USW Beijing office, he supported liaison with the local grain industry in Beijing and the Sino-U.S. Model Flour Mill, which was established as a training facility for millers across China.

In 1998, Andy became Country Director and Chief Representative, tasked with helping maintain relationships with the national State Administration of Grain, the national grain reserve (Sinograin) and COFCO, along with north China milling companies. He helped develop, plan and participate in annual crop quality reporting seminars with a growing number of attendees from across China’s flour milling industry and grain trading companies. The event is now firmly established as one of the milling industry’s most important opportunities to meet, network and understand the U.S. wheat production and export marketing system.

Andy also accompanied several Asian and End Products Collaborative groups to Portland, Ore., and the Pacific Northwest, working with USW’s West Coast Office and the Wheat Marketing Center to increase understanding of U.S. wheat milling and flour processing quality among key milling and wheat foods processing companies. These activities were a key to increasing opportunities in China for hard red spring (HRS), soft white (SW) and hard red winter (HRW) wheat.

His work with USW colleagues helped assure that Quality Samples Program (QSP) containers of northern spring/dark northern spring wheat from North Dakota, Montana and Minnesota successfully improved miller’s knowledge of the HRS wheat class. From those events, which took place after China’s accession to the WTO in 1999, along with QSP programs for Pacific Northwest grown soft white (SW) wheat, USW has helped increase demand for both classes in recent years.  Because of Zhao’s dedication to U.S. wheat farmers, industry participants on both sides of the Pacific have come to better understand what each stakeholder needs and can offer to the others.

Thank you, Andy, for your faithful service. Your colleagues all wish you the best of luck as you begin your pursuit of “new adventures!”


The Pacific Northwest (PNW) grain chain and U.S. wheat importers are aware that the Columbia Snake River System (CSRS) will close for extended maintenance beginning Dec. 12, 2016, and ending March 20, 2017. This will allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to make essential renovations to all the navigation locks on the Columbia River and the Snake River. No barge traffic will be able to pass during this time.

U.S. Wheat Associate (USW) welcomes this investment as a critical part of our country’s long-term position as the world’s most reliable supplier to our customers. USW and supply chain participants take any customer concerns about supply, cost impact and logistical options seriously and is working with customers to help them minimize any possible impact before, during, and after the river system closure.

Such extended closures are unusual but, as our overseas customers learned during the last extended closure in 2010/11, the entire PNW system is fully capable of ensuring an uninterrupted supply of wheat to export terminals.

USW believes the industry will consider every logistical option to keep wheat, especially soft white (SW) wheat, flowing to export elevators. Significant changes will help make this closure more manageable. For example, total export terminal storage capacity on the Columbia River has grown substantially since 2011. The addition of an entirely new terminal, plus the construction of new storage at several others, has increased storage capacity from 564,000 metric tons (MT) to 866,000 MT today. The PNW’s total up-country grain storage capacity has also grown to 17.3 million MT from 16.4 MMT.

Rail shipments made up 54 percent of SW sourced by rail during the outage in 2010/11. Rail shipping will likely make up most of the barge capacity shortfall during this closure as well. An estimated 80 percent of hard red winter and 90 percent of hard red spring exported from the PNW are already sourced by rail. For SW to move west, rail sourcing will have to increase as much as 25 percent (see chart below). Fortunately, railroads have been investing in capacity and there are now four shuttle train loading terminals in eastern Washington, compared to two that were operational in 2010/11. The system is even better prepared to meet demand in 2016/17.

Knowing the CSRS will be closed during the upgrade, exporters, grain originators, barge operators, railroads, and trucking lines are already planning to minimize interruptions and costs. Alternatives include:

  • Pre-positioning the maximum number of barges to load SW before the closing (the Bonneville Lock and Dam should re-open after 8 weeks, which would open facilities up river to The Dalles, about 307 km east of Portland);
  • Moving more rail cars and locomotives into the region to handle increased demand from rail-loading interior elevators;
  • Coordinating truck and rail delivery from the Willamette Valley, south of Portland.
  • Buyers can help themselves by preparing for the maintenance period. USW believes there will be sufficient volume of all U.S. wheat classes normally available from the PNW. Buyers can also help lower the risk of interruption and minimize potential costs by taking a longer view of their purchase needs.

USW is advising its customers to consider:

  • Consulting with PNW exporters as early as possible to help give exporters more time to respond to your needs and to manage their logistical challenges.
  • Scheduling a meeting soon with the local USW representative to identify buying strategies that fit specific needs and capabilities;
  • Analyzing inventory needs and logistical capabilities;
  • Increasing SW wheat and/or flour storage;
  • Increasing SW purchase cadence in the harvest and immediate post-harvest period (July – November) before the closure;
  • Deferring as an offset some hard red winter (HRW) and hard red spring (HRS) shipments from the immediate post-harvest period into the maintenance period.

As an objective voice for U.S. wheat producers, USW greatly values the trust customers have in its products and service and remains fixed on helping buyers, millers, and wheat food processors learn how to grow their enterprises using U.S. wheat. The organization believes that, working together, the industry and customers will see wheat trade continue to flow.

About the Columbia Snake River System. The CSRS is a vital transportation link for wheat producers in the states of Idaho, Montana, Oregon, and Washington. The economies of these four states rely heavily on the commerce that flows up and down this system. The CSRS is the #1 U.S. wheat export gateway. The deep draft channel supports 46 million tons of cargo each year, valued at $20 billion. The inland system supports more than 9 million tons of cargo.

For more information, visit the Pacific Northwest Waterways Association online at