Despite the different roles or distances between us, all the people around the world in the story of U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) share an unspoken connection, not only through U.S. wheat, but also through our shared values of growth, hard work and family.
Today, those connections may have been physically broken by concern for our health during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the effort to keep those bonds strong continues thanks to the miracle of the Internet.
USW has adapted before to circumstances that kept our representatives apart from overseas customers. Our regional office in Mexico City used online tools to successfully conduct virtual Crop Quality Seminars with Venezuelan customers since 2015.
With forethought that looks uncanny today, USW Director of Information Services Terry Herman in 2019 installed the latest collaboration software from Microsoft that has become a lifeline to customers who initially were very concerned that the pandemic would disrupt the flow of wheat from the United States. USW quickly put the new tool to work to help reassure customers that the U.S. wheat store would stay open.
“It was very important to have the ability to connect personally, even if it was through virtual meetings,” said USW Vice President of Overseas Operations Mike Spier. “With the restrictions and a new wheat crop coming there were lots of questions about supply to answer. I don’t think you can ever replace the value of face-to-face meetings but being able to quickly turn to online tools that allow us to see and hear each other sure helps to reinforce the relationships.”
Using its new platform, for example, USW Manila has conducted an online meeting with more than 50 Philippine flour millers to discuss current supply and demand factors. The tool helped USW reach out to flour millers across Sub-Saharan Africa. USW Santiago is holding almost daily meetings on the platform with customers in several South American countries
In April, USW Singapore worked with a local partner to conduct a two-hour webinar on cookie and cracker production featuring USW Bakery Consultant Roy Chung for 194 baking industry professionals from key U.S. wheat markets including the Philippines and Indonesia. A second webinar to South Asian customers in May focused on cake production. USW Santiago and USW Cape Town also partnered with Kansas Wheat to hold virtual trade teams that featured harvest progress, early crop quality and price expectations, and online video discussions with farmers live from their fields.
These are only a few examples of how USW, with support from its state wheat commission members, USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service, farmers and other industry organizations, is working to secure the trusted partnerships they have built with overseas customers – even in the midst of such an unexpected disruption.