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!