Cultivating relationships with international customers

Slideshow: Iowa corn farmers host grain trade teams from Japan and other countries at harvesttime.

As harvest moved into full swing this fall, international trade teams continued making stops in Iowa to see U.S. corn production and the quality of this year’s crop firsthand. A few weeks ago a U.S. Grains Council trade team representing the Japanese feed industry traveled to Iowa to get a look at U.S. corn and distillers dried grains with solubles production and supply. The team visited corn farms, river terminals, grain elevators, and major ethanol and DDGS production plants.

“Harvesttime is when our corn comes off the assembly line so to speak,” said Bruce Rohwer, a corn and livestock farmer from Paullina in northwest Iowa who hosted the team. “Just like farmers enjoy visiting the manufacturing plant to see their new machinery rolling off the assembly floor, international buyers want to visit Iowa and see their corn coming directly from the field.”

Getting up-close look
The delegation happened to visit Rohwer on a day when it was too wet to harvest. During the visit, they climbed up and sat in the combine and saw the rest of his equipment. He also showed them a test sample of corn he had harvested and ran through an antique sheller. “They were amazed by the color of the shelled corn,” said Rohwer. “They wanted to know if the corn was always the same color or if it changed color during the drying process. They had never seen shelled corn like that before. I told them it’s usually the same shade of golden yellow.”

The group included nine representatives with positions designing feed rations for major Japanese hog operations. Thus, their trip included visits to Rohwer’s farm, as well as Doug Carter’s hog and row crop farm at Audubon in western Iowa and Denny Friest’s row crop and hog farm at Radcliffe in central Iowa. The Japanese visitors wanted to obtain information on the nutritional advantages of DDG and the feeding practices used in the United States.

Visits help build friendships, corn markets
Other stops on the team’s Iowa visit included a tour of the Green Plains ethanol production facility at Shenandoah in southwest Iowa, a presentation about the basics of Iowa corn and ethanol industries and a forecast report on Iowa’s corn harvest. They also stopped at Innovative Ag in Garden City, and listed to a presentation on the latest DDG research at Iowa State University.

“They were primarily interested in seeing how I use DDGs in my hog operation,” said Rohwer. “They were friendly and inquisitive about Iowa agriculture. Whenever you can put a human face to the product you are selling, it makes a difference. You want to buy from someone you can look in the eyes. With all the negative rhetoric happening regarding trade these days, we must cultivate personal relationships with our international customers. We need to let them know trade and their business matters to U.S. farmers.”

Japan top corn customer
Japan is the top customer for U.S. corn this marketing year, buying 12.7 million metric tons (almost 500 million bushels) from September 2016 to July 2017, an increase of 38% year-over-year and the most imports since 2010-11. Overall, Japan’s imports of corn in all forms, including value-added products made with corn, increased 32% compared to the same period last year, with a value of $5.48 billion. 

The Iowa Corn Promotion Board invests checkoff dollars to support the U.S. Grains Council and its market development activities. USGC is a private, nonprofit organization that works to develop exports in more than 50 countries from 10 worldwide offices and its Washington, D.C., headquarters. 

ICPB works to develop and defend markets, fund research, and provide education about corn and corn products. For more information, visit iowacorn.org.

The U.S. Grains Council develops export markets for U.S. barley, corn, sorghum and related products including ethanol and DDGS. The council believes exports are vital to global economic development and to U.S. agriculture's profitability. Founded in 1960, the council is a private, nonprofit corporation with international offices and programs. Its unique membership includes producer organizations and agribusinesses with a common interest in developing export markets. See more at grains.org.

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