Quality: A Key Factor in Competing for U.S. Market Share

By: Erick Erickson, U.S. Grains Council Vice President

Corn quality, good and bad, is an issue often raised by customers as U.S. Grains Council (USGC) staff promotes U.S. corn exports around the world. And while the specific quality requirements of an export shipment are established in individual sales contracts, the Council always is looking for ways to enhance the quality image, or the quality brand, of U.S. corn.

Encouraging the entire corn production chain to continually improve the quality of U.S. grain is critical to the ongoing competitiveness of U.S. grain in export markets. Production by export competitors has risen sharply in recent years. Since 2005, Brazil and Ukraine have increased their exportable corn supplies by about 32 million metric tons (1.3 billion bushels), while U.S. share of global corn trade has fallen from its previous range of 50 to 60 percent to about 38 percent last year. This means defending U.S. market share has become an important task in marketing the U.S. corn crop. While many factors in grain purchasing decisions are beyond our control, working together, we can have a large measure of control over corn quality.

U.S. corn quality is influenced by every element of the production and marketing system – seed development, equipment design, planting, harvesting, storage, handling, transporting and trading. Seemingly small actions that seem far removed from U.S. export customers can influence the quality image of U.S. corn when it is received by export customers.

For example, foreign material including non-grain plant materials and other foreign objects can be mixed inadvertently into corn at many points on the journey from the field to the final conveyer to the ultimate delivery point. And wherever these materials came from, they present an eyesore to buyers that can undermine the image of U.S. grains.

The Council is continually educating foreign buyers about U.S. corn production, the U.S. marketing system and U.S. grades and standards that are the basis for corn export trading practices. In addition, the Council develops annual U.S. corn quality reports – one from samples taken during harvest at local elevators and one from export samples. These educational efforts and quality reports are well-received around the world, and they help boost U.S. corn customers’ confidence in the products we are proud to promote.

In the increasingly competitive environment of global grain trade, we recognize that the conversations we have with buyers in Asia, the Middle East, Latin America and beyond build on the efforts of everyone in the production and marketing system to enhance the brand image of U.S. corn to export customers. The United States’ diligence in maintaining the quality of the grain produced throughout the marketing chain returns big dividends in the form of strong quality image for U.S. corn among export 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 13 key markets and representatives in an additional 15 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.