For nearly six decades, the sun has never set on the U.S. Grains Council’s (USGC’s) work to develop markets, enable trade and improve lives. Following the unprecedented spread of COVID-19, Council global staff is moving more of that work online – staying true to the organization’s mission and reinforcing the trust in the relationships built with customers and end-users in more than 50 countries.
“The expansion of virtual market development work represents how the Council continues to pivot with the challenges of the time,” said Ryan LeGrand, USGC president and chief executive officer. “For six decades, our staff has adjusted to trying times, shifting demand and exploring new opportunities. Our organization is combining our shared experiences with new tools at our staff members’ disposal to continue to further our mission on behalf of U.S. farmers and agribusinesses.”
Export Cargo Quality Report Shifts To Virtual Rollout
The ninth edition of the Council’s report on corn cargo quality rolled out in late April. In prior years, USGC staff conducted in-person rollout seminars for end-users, allowing for face-to-face questions or discussions on concerns and for U.S. farmers and agribusiness members to directly share how their practices contribute to maintaining quality.
For this year’s report, the rollout has shifted to a series of webinars, a selection of which are now available on the Council’s YouTube page. Council staff will continue to conduct virtual versions of the traditional rollout seminar, including the participation of U.S. farmers, throughout May and early June in markets from Southeast Asia to Central America for groups of all sizes and end uses.
“These virtual corn quality rollout activities continue to help establish clear expectations with buyers and end-users regarding the quality of corn this marketing year,” said Reece Cannady, USGC manager of global trade. “While we look forward to the resumption of face-to-face conversations in the future, this format provides a platform for a robust discussion on U.S. farming practices, grading, handling and how U.S. corn is moved and controlled through U.S. export channels.”
USGC Webinars Tackle Technical Topics
USGC staff are also taking to online platforms to facilitate discussions on highly technical topics, including international contracting standards, foreign exchange risk management, export credit programs and more.
The Council’s Latin American office coordinated a regional webinar workshop last week with the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Foreign Agricultural Service (USDA’s FAS) on the Export Credit Guarantee Program (GSM-102), which provides financing support for commercial exports of U.S. agricultural products. The webinar – which was presented in English and Spanish simultaneously – included more than 150 participants from 58 companies in 13 countries.
“Importers and exporters in the region both appreciated the information on how the GSM-102 program could be of use in the current challenging trade environment,” said Ana Ballesteros, USGC marketing director for Latin America. “For some, the seminar was a reminder on how the program worked, but for most, it was learning about an option they had not heard of before.”
The Council’s LTA staff also conducted a webinar to discuss foreign exchange risk management, targeted at large and mid-size feed, poultry and livestock producers that represent more than 80 percent of corn imports into Colombia. Grain traders servicing the Colombian market, large premix and formulation service providers and industry associations were also invited. More than 40 individuals representing 20 companies, in addition to three regional FAS officials, participated in the online event. Two financial markets experts shared the fundamentals affecting the value of the Colombian peso and offered tools to help manage foreign exchange risk when buying U.S. coarse grains and co-products.
Across the Atlantic Ocean, the Council’s Washington, D.C., and Tunisia offices coordinated a webinar earlier in April for more than 60 customers from 25 different countries in Europe, the Middle East and Africa to discuss Grain and Feed Trade Association (GAFTA) contracts, which are used for roughly 80 percent of the world’s grain shipping trade. The webinar also included updates on the supply and demand of U.S. corn and corn co-products.
“Participants appreciated the knowledge and guidance on how to navigate various shipping situations,” said Kyle Gilliam, USGC manager of global strategies and trade. “The attendees were pleased to hear how GAFTA contracts do a great job of protecting the interests of the buyer, even when shipments may be delayed.”
These programs provide a format to keep in close contact with customers while continuing to provide a valuable flow of information and technical education on how to best take advantage of the U.S. grain supply chain.
Staff Shares Screen Time With Customers
Having staff on the ground in major U.S. export markets is a continued strength of the Council’s work. Maintaining the interpersonal connection between USGC staff members and representatives and their customers has continued throughout COVID-19 with many of those one-on-one discussions moving to online formats.
USGC consultants in Indonesia are conducting one-on-one seminars in May with companies to discuss the development of the country’s poultry industry and how to most efficiently use different feed ingredients. The Council’s ethanol-focused staff continue to discuss the advantages of incorporating ethanol into the fuel supply as governments prepare for more cars to return to the road in countries like Costa Rica and El Salvador. More of these one-on-one consultations are planned for upcoming months as individual companies adjust their operating procedures.
“We are following government directions in each locality to maintain social distancing and keep our staff members and their families safe,” LeGrand said. “In the meantime, we are also exploring many new ways to use the technology available to keep in touch and maintain the connections and trust we have built with our customers.”
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.