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A farmer’s perspective on export market development

Posted: Mar 02 2023

Export market development has been a priority for the ND Wheat Commission since the organization began over 60 years ago.  The vast majority of this work is done collaboratively through U.S. Wheat Associates (USW). USW supported by the North Dakota Wheat Commission and 16 other state wheat organizations.  Along with producer funds, funding provided by USDA’s Foreign Ag Service allows USW to maintain 15 offices in key wheat markets and carry out market development activities in more than 100 countries.  

While USW carries out customer service and promotional activities nearly every day of the year, producers supporting the check off don’t get to see the work first hand very often. Last fall, NDWC board member Scott Huso had an opportunity to travel to key spring wheat markets as part as USW’s annual crop quality seminars. Every year USW hosts Crop Quality seminars in primary buying regions throughout the world. The goal of the seminars is to inform millers and bakers what the specific quality characteristics of different classes of wheat raised in that year appear to be – which helps them make better purchasing decisions.

Scott was invited to attend the crop quality seminars this past November to help represent U.S. Hard Red Spring Wheat (HRS) – a class of wheat that is primarily raised in North Dakota and surrounding states. Having a farmer involved in these presentations helps buyers connect more with where their ingredients are coming from. We asked Scott to share his experience in this article:

When I was asked to be a farmer representative on the Southeast Asian crop quality tour, I was honored and a little nervous about participating. I was curious about the three cities that we were going to be visiting: Bangkok, Thailand; Jakarta, Indonesia; and Manila, Philippines. Those three cities are within the key sales areas of U.S. wheat within that region. And they are very large – with each having a population over 10 million people.  On average, HRS sales to those three countries combined have amounted to 75 million bushels per year, accounting for nearly a third of total HRS exports.

U.S. Wheat Associates typically holds these meetings every year, and as a farmer, I could easily understand why we were of value in attendance. At our first meeting in Bangkok, I did not give a presentation, but I received quite a few questions from millers and bakers. I could see that they valued the insights from the person that actually produces the wheat that they use as an ingredient. With all of the questions that were asked, the most common one was: Why is your wheat so expensive?

Thankfully, I knew that question would be coming. Roy Chung, USW Baking Consultant, told us farmers that the answer to the price question is this: U.S. wheat is an ingredient, not a commodity. Research shows that U.S. HRS has better baking characteristics than most other wheat grown throughout the world. As an organized coalition of farmers, marketers, and scientists, our job was to reinforce that message. Yes, our wheat may be more expensive – but you get what you pay for.

In Bangkok, we toured the largest bakery in the entire country of Thailand. We learned that the bakery had to increase prices of its products for the first time in 10 years because of the higher wheat prices. That seemed unreal to me, but I came to understand that the consumers in Bangkok spend a higher percentage of their income on food than we do in the U.S.  So a price increase of food had more of a negative impact on their income.

I spoke in both Jakarta and Manila. In my introduction, I compared my hometown’s population to their city’s population - 230 people compared to 10 million! But I also shared photos of our wonderful farmland that produces the high-quality wheat that they are looking to purchase. I shared information about our farming practices, our main goals for our farm, and our priority on raising quality crops. I received some great questions about crop rotations, crop storage, minimum tillage and use of pesticides.
As a farmer, we think of wheat quality as protein and test weight when we deliver it to the elevator. Participating in these crop quality meetings helped me realize that quality is much more important than quantity when thinking of flour that is used in making food that we eat. I also realized that the markets in Southeast Asia are very price sensitive because of the vast difference in income among their citizens. 

Having opportunities to connect with international buyers of our wheat is key to helping them understand everything that goes in to producing a high-quality crop. It’s a relationship that needs to be maintained and encouraged as we, North Dakota wheat producers, continue to produce the highest quality hard red spring wheat in the world.

Scott Huso and Panida Prayottaweekij, Assistant Managing Director, President Bakery, Thailand. Panida was a member of a trade team that visited North Dakota in September and Scott was able to reconnect with her again in Thailand

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