Seeing is believing
RADCLIFFE – Big. It’s the one word that kept coming up again as representatives of the Japanese feed industry toured various farms and feed mills in north-central Iowa recently.
The Japanese grain buyers didn’t need their interpreter to convey their sense of awe, either.
“The scale of agriculture in Iowa is impressive,” said Jun Katsuki, who works in the sales office of the Toyohashi Feed Mill Co. in Japan.
Grain buyers like Katsuki who are paying $7.60 a bushel for No. 3 yellow corn were intensely curious, inquisitive and enthusiastic about learning about this grain’s journey from Iowa fields to Japanese ports.
Katsuki, along with eight other representatives of the Japanese feed industry, an interpreter and a reporter from a Japanese poultry and swine magazine, were part of a U.S. Grains Council trade tour that visited the Midwest in late October.
The event connected international buyers with U.S. sellers of corn, distiller’s dried grains with solubles, corn gluten meal and corn gluten feed.
“This mission trip offered participants the opportunity to see the corn production chain first-hand, ask questions directly at farms, elevators and ethanol plants, increasing their understanding of the quality advantages of U.S. corn and DDGs,” said Carl Jardon, a farmer from Randolph, who serves as a director with the Iowa Corn Growers Association.
Tour destinations included DuPont Pioneer’s Research and Development headquarters and laboratories in Johnston, an Iowa ethanol plant, Ag Partners, in Ellsworth, and a farm visit.
One of the highlights was a combine ride with Denny Friest as he finished harvesting corn south of Radcliffe on Oct. 28. Then the group stopped by the Friest family’s hog farm to learn more about how nutrients from the livestock manure help fertilize the crop.
“I’m an environmentalist and an economist,” said Friest, as he showed the group yield maps of his fields and shared other precision ag data from his acres in the On-Farm Network. “Farmers manage a lot of factors to produce the best crops we can while staying profitable.”
The group took plenty of notes and photos as members asked Friest about GMOs, crop yields and more.
“Meeting Iowa farmers is really important to these trade delegations,” said Tetsuo “Tommy” Hamamoto, USGC’s Japan director who accompanied the group to Iowa. “Grain buyers from Japan and other nations value the quality, consistent supply and transparency provided by the U.S. grain industry.”
With a record harvest underway and 95 percent of the world’s population living outside of the United States, the importance of exports to the American farmer cannot be understated, noted Lisa Cassady, ICGA’s public relations manager.
With a population of 127 million and a thriving agricultural sector, Japan leads the way in imports of U.S. corn, as well as co-products such as DDGs. Currently, the country ranks as the second largest market for U.S. corn.
So far, in the 2015/16 marketing year, Japan has imported more than 409 million bushels of U.S. corn, valued at more than $1.8 billion dollars.
In the 2014/15 marketing year, Japan bought more than 472 million bushels U.S. corn, valuing $2.2 billion dollars.
Japan is currently the 10th largest buyer of U.S. DDGs for this year, having purchased more than 295 million metric tons of the corn co-product, valued at $57.8 million dollars.
Groups like the Iowa Corn Promotion Board invest in the USGC to help increase demand for U.S. corn and co-products in Japan and other nations worldwide, while boosting the profitability of farmers in Iowa and beyond.
“A critical and unique part of this each year is bringing teams of buyers, end users, scientists, regulators and industry members to the U.S. to see the U.S. grain production system in person,” Cassady said. “Visits and programs like these are vitally important, not only to our export efforts in Iowa, but to the entire ag industry.”
When it comes to international trade, meeting the farmers face-to-face, seeing the facilities firsthand and discussing challenges and opportunities in person go a long way in to fostering stronger business partnerships. “International customers want to see how Iowa’s farmers are growing corn,” Cassady said. “They need to see the quality and understand how the U.S. system works.”
On the flip side, hosting these trade teams also gives U.S. farmers a great opportunity to better understand international customers’ needs and build relationships with them that will translate into sales.
“Around the world, one adage holds true: people want to do business with individuals and organizations they know and trust,” Cassady said.
Through the ICPB, along with the USGC and U.S. Meat Export Federation, Iowa farmers are building this trust in major export markets worldwide. Cassady cited four examples of how this is helping drive demand for U.S. corn exports:
A). Iowa Corn farmer-leaders attend a dozen trade marketing missions every year. “During these missions, Iowa corn farmers learn more about their customers’ businesses,” Cassady said. “These activities show them we value their partnership.”
B). Iowa Corn invests in and supports implementation of MAIZALL, a coalition of corn growers from the United States, MAIZAR in Argentina and ABRAMILHO in Brazil. Members work together on issues of mutual interest, including innovation and food security, even while they compete in the global marketplace. This organization advocates for synchronized and standardized approvals of biotech products and market access trade policies to help facilitate trade.
C). Iowa corn growers collaborate with groups like the National Waterways Conference and the Waterways Council who share a common goal of infrastructure improvements. “Another activity includes an infrastructure communications project to educate Iowans on the importance of investing in infrastructure, including roads and bridges, which play an important part in the transportation of Iowa’s grain for export,” Cassady said.
D). Iowa Corn works with USGC, the Renewable Fuels Association and Growth Energy to increase corn-ethanol exports to increase value-added demand for corn growers.
USGC’s Hamamoto said he appreciates Iowa farmers and other ag leaders involved in these projects, especially the international trade team visits.
“Seeing is believing,” Hamamoto said. “Based on the international grain buyers’ positive experiences here in Iowa and other parts of America, they become comfortable with buying more U.S. grain.”
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