Virtual Meeting Brings Barley Fields To Mexican Brewers

A proud sign proclaiming, “Your Next Beer Starts Here,” at the edge of a ripe barley field was only one piece of September meetings between the U.S. barley industry and a large Mexican brewing company. The virtual meetings – organized by the U.S. Grains Council (USGC), the North Dakota Barley Council (NDBC), North Dakota State University (NDSU) and the Northern Crops Institute (NCI) – showcased the 2020 growing season and offered information about the factors influencing barley supply and demand.

“These virtual missions augment our traditional visits and help continue to build relationships and trust with our customers in Mexico,” said Javier Chavez, USGC marketing specialist for Mexico. “While the original goal of the program was to help the company learn where to source information, they ended asking questions and learning about the variables that influence barley price and production.”

The Council has worked with this major brewing company since 2014, focusing on exchanging information between U.S. barley growers and maltsters and this end-user in their top export market.

“This partnership is one of our most successful programs,” Chavez said. “The company values the Council as a source of market contacts, information and education.”

Mexico is the world’s largest beer exporter in terms of both value and volume – good news for U.S. barley farmers and malt producers who supply the main ingredient. Mexico dominates imports of U.S. barley and barley products, purchasing 402,000 metric tons (18.5 million bushels) in 2018/2019.

The outbreak of COVID-19 essentially shut down the brewing industry in Mexico in spring 2020 as beer production was deemed a non-essential industry. Some brewers near the border and in rural areas could operate, but malt imports quickly dropped to a third of normal demand.

As these large companies have resumed production, the Council has stayed in close contact with these key customers to stay tuned-in to their concerns and put new programs – like this month’s seminar – into action.

Originally, the Council had planned for the team to visit the Northern Crops Institute at NDSU and then meet with barley farmers in Idaho and western North Dakota. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Council switched the trade team to a webinar.

The goal of the program remained the same: help explain the different information sources on barley production and supply, including U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) reporting and identifying opportunities to expand the company’s barley procurement program.

The program’s reach, however, was greatly expanded as the online format meant the brewing company could open up attendance to individuals from other departments and even the corporate office – employees who might not otherwise be included on an in-person trade team to the United States. The program ultimately included 35 employees, including representatives from procurement, research and development, corporate quality, finance, planning, international trade and others.

“The flexibility of being at your desk to participate made it easy to attend,” Chavez said. “This format also allowed people from other departments to gain a better understanding of the barley procurement process.

“Some of the procurement folks had attended a USGC program before when they were junior executives. Now, they are senior executives, providing them a different view of the U.S. barley supply chain.”

As a follow-up to this program, the same team had the opportunity to speak directly with barley farmers during a NDBC meeting to learn firsthand – from the source – about the 2020 U.S. barley crop. The farmers on the call walked the Mexican team through the U.S. barley growing season from seed selection and treatment through delivery to the elevator. The Mexican brewers, in turn, asked questions about quality, chemical use and logistics.

“We have become more creative in finding ways to reach our markets,” Chavez said. “When COVID-19 movement restrictions are removed, we will likely continue to see these types of meetings between producers and end-users to discuss what is happening in the farmer’s field and the needs of our end-users and customers specific to their markets.”

Learn more about how the Council promotes U.S. barley in Mexico.