South American Trade School Helps Build Demand For U.S. Grains

More than 120 attendees took part in the USGC South American Trade Schools in Colombia.

Strong educational programming is a critical element of the U.S. Grains Council (USGC) strategy to build global demand for U.S. corn, sorghum, barley and value-added products. As part of that effort, USGC recently offered trade schools in three cities across Colombia to provide a farmer-to-final product perspective on U.S. grains. 

More than 120 attendees took part in the seminars, gaining insights from farmers, traders and USGC staff on topics including hedging, international freights and consolidation of purchasing pools. 

Sparky Crossman, a USGC corn sector delegate and chairman of the Virginia Corn Board, presented at the trade school seminars. He shared an on-farm perspective from his operation in Mount Holly, Virginia, where he farms with his daughter Katie. He also answered questions on topics from crop insurance to forward contracting to biotechnology. 

“I think it is really good when a farmer does travel with the Council,” said Crossman. “It is easy for me to talk about something I love and do - and I have been doing it for 50 years.” 

In Colombia, questions and needs differ between size of importers. For the largest companies, risk management strategy and grain storage rank highest in educational priorities. In contrast, small- to medium-sized importers require more information on nutritional value and use as well as international logistics. Trade school brings together importers of all sizes to share information both from presenters and between attendees. 

“The idea of the trade school format is to have smaller rooms, a maximum of 30 people, that promote dialogue and idea exchange,” said Luis Bustamante, USGC marketing specialist for the Western Hemisphere. “This logical flow allowed participants to discuss procurement of U.S. grains from the farm to the end-user.” 

Programs like trade schools help emphasize the U.S. competitive advantage in Colombia, thanks in part to the preferential trading terms in the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement. The programs also provide the opportunity for USGC representatives to answer questions, address concerns and identify what constraints inhibit trade with the United States. 

Colombia was the third largest market for U.S. corn in 2015/2016, importing more than 4.5 million metric tons (177.2 million bushels) valued at more than $776 million. Exports in 2016/2017 (September-March) are already 28 percent ahead of the same time period last year with more than 3.57 million tons (140.5 million bushels) in U.S. corn purchases.

USGC’s Outlook Colombia 2030 report projected Colombia corn imports will reach 5.5 million tons (216.5 million bushels) by 2020 and 7.8 million tons (307 million bushels) by 2030, with the majority of that demand met by U.S. producers. 

The flow of information during events like trade schools ultimately assists this growth in demand as Colombia continues to re-vamp its agricultural sector and helps secure the role of U.S. grains and value-added products in Colombia’s feed supply chain. 

“We need trade,” said Crossman. “Trade is what makes the world go round.”