Former USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development Tom Dorr is the new president and CEO of the Washington, D.C., based U.S. Grains Council. He will head the country's largest export market development organization for corn, barley, sorghum and their coproducts, assuming the role on Nov. 16, 2009.
Dorr says being an Iowa farmer for more than 30 years and serving seven years with USDA gave him the opportunity to understand and value the nearly 50 years of export market development efforts of the council. "I'm very familiar with the worldwide market development programs the council has conducted since 1960," he says. "The council is focused on global initiatives, but the real purpose of this organization is to sustain and build economic opportunity not only for rural America, but worldwide. I'm excited to have the privilege to serve U.S. farmers and agribusinesses in this new capacity."
Brings broad range of ag, financial and business experience
Rick Fruth, USGC chair and an Ohio farmer, says Dorr has broad agricultural, financial and business experience that qualifies him to lead the organization. "Dorr has a long history of service to agriculture and rural America, especially U.S. agriculture, and truly understands the day-to-day challenges U.S. farmers face. He has an ability to facilitate consensus and enable unity resulting in solid solutions," says Fruth. "He'll have an exceptional global staff ready to serve."
As undersecretary for Rural Development, Dorr led programs to expand rural infrastructure, including electric, broadband and water services, rural entrepreneurial efforts and rural housing. Dorr has served as a member of the board of directors of the 7th District Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, the Iowa Board of Regents and as a member and officer of the Iowa and National Corn Growers Associations. Dorr, from Marcus in northwest Iowa, was the president of a family farm and agribusiness company for 29 years.
Opportunities and challenges for U.S. feed grain exports
Dorr says his first priority will be to work with the council's membership, board of directors and staff to clearly define, not just the challenges, but the opportunities for international grain trade. "I'm thrilled to have the honor to work with and for an organization that has developed trusted relationships with international government leaders, livestock producers and grain processing organizations worldwide. Its membership intends that we continue to build on its successes."
Dorr succeeds the retiring Ken Hobbie, USGC's president and CEO for the last 18 years and who has been with the council for a total of 33 years.
The U.S. has had challenges from other countries as a major exporter in recent years, especially on soybeans. But the U.S. is still the dominant supplier in coarse grains such as corn to the world market. "USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke at a conference in Iowa recently about the complexities of the world grain trade," says Dorr. "He's absolutely right. It's not a simple business. It's complicated and there are a lot of sophisticated issues now, particularly involving biotechnology and which countries will receive grain with certain traits."
Increasing potential to sell more distillers grains abroad
Also, markets change over a period of time. "You think about corn flowing from a bin on your farm, into a truck and then into a train and ultimately into a big ocean-going ship," notes Dorr. "Now we see an evolving market for distillers dried grains, and opportunities to do more foreign market development work. We can help potential customers build their livestock industries and improving the diets of their citizens. In many cases that helps them use some of their own grain too - to feed their livestock, instead of selling it on the world market where it competes with our grain."
It's a continuing challenge to sell more U.S. grain to countries that don't necessarily like to buy from us for political reasons, such as the Soviet Union and China, but who don't buy from us until they have to. "Russia is a country that could use our grain," says Dorr. "Yet they have over the long-term refused to buy much grain from us. China is another unpredictable market that is a potential large buyer of grain on the world market."
Several years ago China started selling some grain and displaced some of our market in South Korea. The USGC has had an ongoing presence in China for years, helping develop a sophisticated feed and livestock industry in China. They are now using all their corn internally in China, so we've gained back those markets that China had taken away from us."