By Elizabeth Westendorf, USW Assistant Director of Policy
Every year, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) invites farmers (selected by state wheat commissions) to visit U.S. wheat customers overseas to learn more about international markets, customer needs, and the role of U.S. wheat in their businesses. This year, USW Assistant Director of Policy Elizabeth Westendorf led a team of three farmers to Spain, Portugal, and Morocco. The team included: Al Klempel, a hard red spring (HRS) and hard red winter (HRW) wheat farmer from Bloomfield, Mont. representing the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee; Kent Lorens, a HRW and hard white (HW) wheat farmer from Stratton, Neb., representing the Nebraska Wheat Board; and Casey Madsen, a HRW and HW wheat farmer from Pine Bluffs, Wyo., representing the Wyoming Wheat Marketing Commission.
They were accompanied by Ian Flagg, USW Regional Vice President for European, Middle Eastern and North African Regions and Rutger Koekoek, USW Regional Marketing Director, from the USW Rotterdam Office, as well as Mina El Hachimi, USW Director of Finance and Administration; Peter Lloyd, USW Regional Technical Director; and Tarik Gahi, USW Milling and Baking Technologist, from the USW Casablanca Office.
In Spain, the team visited a pasta factory and several flour mills. They learned the importance of Spain’s growing pasta industry and visited a company capitalizing on health foods trends with innovative seeds and grains blends. The largest pasta producing company in Spain, Grupo Gallo, was the first to introduce semolina-based pasta to Spain in the 1960s when they brought durum wheat into the country. Prior to that, Spain only consumed pasta from common wheat. Today, Spanish millers value stability and consistency in the U.S. wheat they buy, and these qualities become even more important as companies continue to expand into convenience products. In Portugal, this theme of appreciating quality continued, with companies constantly seeking new ways to innovate in the market and distinguish their products from competitors.
After Portugal, the team left the EU to visit USW’s office and customers in Morocco. They met with Moroccan Office of Cereals (ONICL) and spoke about continued progress in implementation of the U.S.-Moroccan Free Trade Agreement, which includes a wheat tariff-rate quota. As in Spain and Portugal, Moroccan mills appreciate U.S. wheat quality, and companies targeting the high-quality niche market know they are well-served with U.S. wheat.
“The Moroccan market is very different from that of Spain or Portugal,” says Westendorf. “But the demand for high-quality wheat is still very evident and will continue to grow. We need to make sure that U.S. wheat maintains its reputation as the world’s most reliable choice by continuing to support our customers through trade and technical service, as well as varietal improvement programs.”
In Morocco, the team also visited the Institut de Formation de l’Indstrie Meunière (IFIM), a milling school in Casablanca that USW started in partnership with the Moroccan Millers Federation in 1994. This school trains millers that work all over Africa and the Middle East, and the school is proud to continue partnering with USW to introduce students to the value of high-quality wheat in milling.
USW board teams provide a valuable experience for U.S. wheat farmers to see the hard work of our foreign offices and the results that work produces. It also allows U.S. wheat customers to meet with the farmers producing their wheat, and to better understand the strong value that farmers place on producing an excellent crop.
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 at https://www.facebook.com/uswheat/.
*Header Photo Caption: The 2019 USW EU-MEENA Board Team with USW and U.S. Embassy staff during a visit with the technical director of Grupo Gallo at its mill and pasta factory in Spain.