The U.S. Grains Council’s (USGC’s) staff and representatives around the world remain committed to the mission of developing markets, enabling trade and improving lives – even as that work goes fully virtual during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’re continuing operations in this new world that we are all living in,” said Ryan LeGrand, USGC president and chief executive officer. “We are staying on top of available market information in order to update our stakeholders on the status of global grain flows and port operations.”
Since the start of the outbreak, the Council has placed a priority on protecting employees. In late January, USGC staff in China went into telework status. Offices in South Korea and Japan followed suit in subsequent weeks, and other international offices transitioned to telework as the coronavirus outbreak continued to spread. Starting the week of March 16, the entire USGC staff globally began to work remotely from home and will continue do so until further notice.
Despite these global disruptions, USGC staff remain in close contact with customers and governments in the United States and around the world.
“We have everyone within the Council network working at home and making the best use of technology that we can to weather this storm,” LeGrand said. “What we’re trying to do is collect information by maintaining our contacts and reporting back to the U.S. industry and vice versa.”
LeGrand issued a letter to those contacts this week, sharing important updates on the status of the U.S. grain export infrastructure. Operations are continuing largely as normal, at this time, with the exception of some concerns indirectly related to the coronavirus from a lack of containers.
“We have been in contact with a wide range of U.S. agriculture organizations at the state and national levels; coalitions focused on transportation; and private companies operating on the Mississippi, Illinois and Ohio river system and at export facilities in the New Orleans region as well as the Pacific Northwest region,” LeGrand wrote. “In all cases, we have heard back that operations are ongoing and facilities are taking precautions, such as increased sanitary protocols and social distancing, to ensure the spread of COVID-19 does not require a change in that status.”
The efficiency of the U.S. grain supply chain aids in this process. Much of U.S. agriculture and export infrastructure – from farms to ports – is relatively isolated. Most export facilities operate with limited employees, sometimes as few as two or three, and increasingly benefit from automation, which creates efficiencies, reduces costs and keeps operations in line with social distancing guidelines.
At the national level, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) have declared U.S. agriculture and food infrastructure and the employees who work within it as “essential,” meaning they will continue to operate as normally as possible throughout this crisis.
The pandemic and its effect on the global economy continues to evolve rapidly, but the entire U.S. grain industry is cooperating and advocating for continued, stable operations in a very uncertain time. The Council will continue to provide regular updates and, as always, staff members – no matter their location – remain available to answer questions via e-mail or phone.
“We would like to thank you for continuing to put your trust in our farmers, exporters and staff members to help you buy what you need to run your businesses and to feed your communities,” LeGrand wrote to customers. “Each of us realizes the gravity of this situation and the importance of ensuring our work together continues unimpeded until this crisis resolves.”
About The U.S. Grains Council
The U.S. Grains Council develops export markets for U.S. barley, corn, sorghum and related products including distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS) and ethanol. With full-time presence in 28 locations, the Council operates programs in more than 50 countries and the European Union. The Council believes exports are vital to global economic development and to U.S. agriculture’s profitability. Detailed information about the Council and its programs is online at www.grains.org.