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Each year, many trade teams tour The Russell Marine Group’s facility in New Orleans, Louisiana, to discuss quality certification and grain handling logistics. The group’s president, Thomas Russell, said that during his five years of formal involvement as a U.S. Grains Council (USGC) delegate, he has viewed that educational effort as part of his responsibility to the larger U.S. agricultural industry.
“We think that our knowledge of the entire inner workings of the industry, not just to sample and do analytical work, enables us to help educate and address concerns,” Russell said. “It is an education process on teaching customers what these products are all about.”
“We touch and feel a lot so that gives us a real advantage in understanding the dynamics, trends and things happening in the industry. Logistics, quality, trade restrictions - these are usually things that we are on the forefront of.”
For groups walking through his doors, Russell said he emphasizes the quality control efforts from U.S. origination to loading vessels and everything in between.
“These are some of the strictest rules and quality controls and certifications in the world,” Russell said. “We’re quite happy to talk about those controls and implemented processes. Testing capabilities, certifications - these are all things that protect the U.S. exporter in case they are challenged on quality, but also give a grain importer at a shipment’s destination confidence about our procedures here.”
In this way, Russell said he values the opportunity to dig in on discussions about quality, reliability and general understanding of the U.S. grain and export inspection system.
“We can be seen as a bridge between an exporter and an importer because we are not trying to sell a product, we are trying to sell the industry,” Russell said. “And selling the industry, from our point of view, and adding clarity is perhaps magnified by the fact that we are so entrenched and involved with so many aspects.”
Russell has brought that experience and insight with him to contentious discussions with international buyers. He was particularly active in helping the Council and the U.S. grain industry address issues in the early years of exporting distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS). After working with the industry to resolve issues related to color, variability and other early growing pains, Russell said his group saw the benefit of joining the Council and being a part of the entire process.
“We are well known, and we do provide a good service, that goes hand-in-hand with a genuine concern for wanting to do it right,” Russell said. “We saw the benefits of becoming members and the value the Council brought to the industry and we just wanted to be a part of it.”