Corn Commentary

Corn Mission Accomplished

The U.S. Grains Council Corn Mission team to Morocco, Egypt and Jordan has concluded and the group is back safe and sound on American soil.

Chuck Zimmerman reports on some final thoughts from the mission:

A consistent theme was the growth potential in these markets. That’s why the USGC has people on the ground working to develop new business opportunities for American farmers. After our team’s final dinner I spoke with them as a group to get their final thoughts on what they’d like farmers back home to know about their experience. We just went around the table starting with the corn grower members. Here are some of their final thoughts:

  • The main thing is the relationship the USGC staff has with people in all these countries. They appreciate what the USGC does.
  • I got to see what the USGC does on a personal level. These ddgs programs are working well. I hope they’ll buy more.
  • I sure learned a lot about the legwork that goes on on the ground here for these guys. There’s still some work to be done.
  • We spent our time well and did something that will benefit everyone back home. The USGC work has been an important part of keeping our exports going.
  • I think the potential for increased sales is there. The network is in place and working well.
  • Demand looks strong and will continue for a long time to come.

Shannon Schaffer, the USGC staff representative on our trip added these thoughts:

  • These guys worked really hard on this trip. Lots of time spent on the road and with the customers we service. They served as ambassadors for the USGC and corn growers specifically.

You can listen to Chuck’s final interview with the Corn Mission Team below:

Read all about the trip and see all the photos on Agwired and/or USGC’s The Grain Board.

Growth of Grain Imports In Morocco

A team of corn growers on a mission in Morocco this week heard from Kurt Shultz, Director for the Mediterranean and Africa for the U.S. Grains Council (USGC), about the agriculture industry in Morocco and the potential it holds for U.S. grain producers.

Chuck Zimmerman, who is blogging the trip on Agwired and The Grain Board, reports that Kurt told them the USGC became involved in Morocco about 15 years ago when corn imports were low and there was a huge duty of about 75 percent. USGC formed a relationship with livestock producers and the government that has led to the reduction of those duties to about 35 percent, which has driven growth tremendously, as has an increase in poultry production.

Kurt says that the USGC helped form a poultry organization that provides members with educational materials so that it can compete on a global level. He says that investment has paid off big dividends over the years. Besides corn, he says they are seeing a growth in the imports of dried distillers grains. Kurt says that imports in Morocco could double in the next five years, especially with developments in the ruminant sector.

Listen to Chuck’s interview with Kurt here:

See photos from the trip here: USGC Corn Mission In Morocco Photo Album

Corn Growers on a Mission in Morocco

Corn MissionThe 2009 U.S. Grains Council (USGC) Corn Mission team landed in Casablanca today for the first leg of a trip that includes Morocco, Egypt and Jordan. Blogging for the team is Chuck Zimmerman (far left in the photo) of ZimmComm New Media who already has interviews with the entire team posted for your listening pleasure here on Agwired.

The team includes - William “Sparky” Crossman representing the Virginia Corn Board, Jim Stuever with the Missouri Corn Merchandising Council, Bob Timmons of the Kansas Corn Commission, Darren Armstrong with Corn Growers of North Carolina, Jerry Griffith representing the Kentucky Corn Promotion Council, Joe Zenz with the Wisconsin Corn Promotion Board - and USGC Director of Membership Shannon Schaffer. That is not in any particular order, since Chuck didn’t identify them from left to right in the photo. I only know him because we’ve been married for almost 30 years! Oh - and Shannon is the guy in the middle.

Follow their travels on Agwired and in pictures through the USGC Corn Mission In Morocco Photo Album

U.S. Corn Grower in China

National Corn Growers Association board member Guy Davenport of North Carolina has been taking part in the U.S. Grains Council’s Annual China Corn Tour this month which has already visited Northern China Plain regions of Henan, Anhui, Hebei and Shandong Provinces and is now touring the drought stricken Northeast region of China.

During a conference call from China this morning, Guy talked about what they have been seeing. “China corn farming was certainly not what I envisioned it to be,” Guy said. “They have soils that are just as good as ours, very large fields that are very comparable to our Midwest farms.” Guy says they found most farmers had just about five acres, but they were small holdings all close together, giving the impression of vast acreage for miles. They also found out that harvest is done by hand and takes a typical farmer about ten days.

As a representative for all corn growers, Guy will be reporting back to the NCGA board what he has learned in China. “I think this gives us a better perspective about how much corn can be grown in that part of the world, how efficient they are in their corn production and to what extent they use irrigation. It was truly an eye-opening experience to me.’

Cary Sifferath, USGC Senior Director in China, talked about the drought conditions in the country and high corn prices. “Those high prices have led to some opportunities for US feed grains products, specifically distillers dried grains (DDGS) products from the US ethanol industry,” Cary said. “We had roughly 8,000 metric tons of DDGS that was exported from the US into China and right now for 2009 we can easily predict 250,000 to 300,000 tons of distillers dried grains being imported by China’s feed and livestock industry, especially in the southern and coastal areas of China where DDGS has become a very competitive feed ingredient.”

Lots of photos from the tour are already posted on the USGC Flickr photo album here and commentary can be found on the USGC blog The Grain Board.

Listen to Guy Davenport’s remarks from China here:

Tom Dorr Named New CEO of Grains Council

A man with his roots in corn has been chosen to help take U.S. corn exports to the next level.

It was officially announced today that former USDA Undersecretary for Rural Development Thomas C. Dorr will serve as president and CEO of the U.S. Grains Council, effective November 16.

Before serving the USDA for seven years, Dorr was an Iowa farmer for 30 years and a member and officer of the Iowa and National Corn Growers Associations. Dorr is taking the helm of the organization as it is about to celebrate 50 years in 2010, succeeding Ken Hobbie, who has been with USGC for 33 years and served as president and CEO for the last 19 years.

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.

Chuck Zimmerman with Agwired interviewed the new CEO:

Meat Comes from Corn

Corn growers and meat exporters have teamed up to remind consumers in Asia that the best tasting beef and pork is made from corn.

A campaign sponsored by the Missouri Corn Merchandising Council and the U.S. Meat Export Federation has produced these colorful posters to be used in retail campaigns and special culinary events.

“While consumers in Japan always say that safety is a top priority, we have found that they actually respond more positively to messages that convey quality and wholesomeness,” said USMEF Japan Director Gregory Hanes. “This type of image helps us subtly address consumers’ safety concerns, but do so in a more positive and appealing manner by stressing the quality of corn-fed beef and pork.”

Earlier this summer, a delegation of producers representing the Iowa Beef Industry Council, the Iowa Corn Promotion Board, the Nebraska Beef Council and the Nebraska Corn Board went to Tokyo on a trade mission organized by USMEF to promote U.S. corn-fed beef in both Japan and South Korea.

Alan Tiemann, a corn and soybean farmer from Seward, Nebraska was on that mission and says that USMEF’s promotional efforts are paying off in Japan. “In the grocery stores, markets and restaurants where USMEF has promotions going on, U.S. beef is very well-received,” he said. “We see a lot of meat going off the shelves where they are doing promotions, and it’s been fun to watch those programs produce results.”

The bad news is that between the overall economy and low prices in key export markets, U.S. beef and pork exports have been down this year. Add in the H1N1 problem and pork exports were down about 30 percent in June of 2009 compared with June 2008.

The National Pork Producers Council today urged the USDA to help U.S. pork producers to help recover from the economic crisis that has caused them to lose an average of more than $21 on each hog marketed for the past two years. Among other things, NPPC wants USDA to work with the U.S. Trade Representative to open export markets to U.S. pork. Several countries, including China, continue to impose unwarranted bans on U.S. pork because of the H1N1 flu.

Rest assured that corn growers will continue to do what they can to help open markets and increase meat exports as well.

Life Without Oil A Noble Goal

logo_oxy_full_smJust saw one of best arguments ever made against our continuing dependence on petroleum and better yet, it came from a global oil giant, Occidental Petroleum.

The commercial, now posted on You Tube, shows a gentleman and his dog reacting as many of the products in their home that contain petroleum disappear. Everything from the TV remote, to his easy chair and eventually the shingles on his home mysteriously go “poof” as evidence of how much we depend on petroleum.

I am sure some marketing/ad agency guru persuaded Occidental this cute concept was a good idea. However, in the decade of $4 gasoline not everyone views the commercial that way. For those concerned about our reliance on imported oil for more than 60% of our needs, this looks somewhat like a clarion call. All I could think while watching this is maybe we can still avoid the images portrayed in the spot by taking aggressive steps to reduce this petro dependence.

Maybe they didn’t get the memo that virtually everything we make from petroleum can be made from agricultural products like corn. Carpeting, ethanol, film and plastic resins are being made today. Combine this knowledge with the growing production capacity of corn producers and I think Occidental may have let the genie out of the bottle.

Life Without Oil sounds like a goal to me.

Corn Growers at Grains Council Meeting

Ran into a few corn growers out in San Diego today at the U.S. Grains Council’s 49th Annual Board of Delegates Meeting.

I got a chance to chat for a few minutes with National Corn Growers Association First Vice President Darrin Ihnen of South Dakota about a number of topics, including how NCGA works with USGC. “We work very well together,” Darrin said. “The Grains Council is kind of the export arm of the corn industry and so from the National Corn Growers perspective, we need our sister organization to handle our exports. We do export roughly 15-20 percent of our corn crop, so that’s a very important market for us.”

He says the export outlook is not as good as it was a year ago because the world economy and the recession have taken their toll and growers are looking at producing another huge crop this year. “I farm in southeast South Dakota and our crop looks as good or better than ever, we’ve got a tremendous crop coming on” Darrin said. “We gotta find a home for all this corn.”

We also talked about the challenges facing livestock producers - which includes Darrin - and what to do about those pesky activists.

Listen to Darrin’s interview here:

Parting Thoughts From Secretary Schafer

With only about 10 days left in office, Agriculture Secretary Ed Schafer spoke to reporters this week about the accomplishments of the Bush administration for American agriculture.

“This administration has ushered in a time of remarkable prosperity and growth in the agriculture economy,” said Schafer. “Strong commodity prices, rising export demand, and the rapid growth of renewable fuels industry in rural America have all played a part in this.”

Schafer noted in particular the importance of free trade agreements for agriculture. “Over the past eight years this administration has negotiated 17 new free trade agreements including three with Colombia, Korea and Panama that are still awaiting action by Congress,” he said. “In all, 11 new free trade agreements are now up and running and opening doors for America’s farmers and ranchers.”

Schafer has served for less than a year as the 29th secretary of agriculture and the third under President George W. Bush. You can read all of his remarks during a telephone press conference today here on the USDA website.

Former EU Commissioner on Ethanol and Trade Talks

The former commissioner of agriculture for the European Union says the food versus fuel controversy is unfair.

“They don’t differentiate between food price and agriculture price and the agriculture price is usually only a small component of the final food product,” Franz Fischler told me during an interview in Austria Friday.

Fischler says that second generation biofuels will be key in meeting long term renewable fuels goals for all countries, but it has to start with first generation ethanol from corn. “That’s why we have to start now,” he added.

Austria has ten biodiesel plants but so far only one ethanol plant. “It seems to me that biodiesel is the most difficult concept as far as sustainability is concerned,” Fischler said, mainly because soybeans and other oilseeds are less economical to grow in that region, compared to corn.

Listen to Fischler’s comments on ethanol here:

On the first day of the IFAJ Congress in Austria, Chuck Zimmerman asked Mr. Fischler what he thought about the Doha Round and if there will ever be any progress made. You might remember that Fischler was very involved in the GATT negotiations once upon a time. Fischler said it is regrettable that a conclusion has not been reached yet. “The negotiations were so advanced that a solution was very close,” Fischler said. “But now I think we must be patient because I don’t see a continuation of the trade talks until a new administration in the US is in charge. Only then I think can we re-launch the round.”

Listen to Fischler’s comments on trade here:

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