Op-Ed: Grain Quality Is A Shared Responsibility And A Customer Demand

Tom Sleight, USGC President and CEO
Tom Sleight, USGC President and CEO
Attention to quality is important

By Tom Sleight, President and CEO, U.S. Grains Council 

The U.S. Grains Council's (USGC) staff and consultants around the world serve as the eyes and ears for our members. It is the personal responsibility of each of our staff members and industry leaders to build relationships with customers, hear about their challenges and bring back what we learn to farmers and agribusinesses who are focused on increasing export demand.

An issue we have heard about consistently is grain quality. How our grain looks and functions is paramount to our global buyers, and the frequency of complaints is increasing. 

Quality concerns have traditionally come from mature grain buyers in countries like Japan and South Korea, especially those who steam flake or roll corn for cattle. We are also now hearing regularly on this topic from North Africa, South America and Southeast Asia.

Chief concerns are broken kernels, dust and an astounding array of foreign materials, rocks, stainless steel bolts and nuts that cannot be filtered out with magnets, dead animals and even the occasional cell phone. (Can you hear me now?) 

These concerns can affect our competitive position. In this marketplace, many customers look at all options from South America and the Black Sea region. Typically, U.S. corn is viewed in the middle range, not the best nor the worst. Of course, the grain normally meets the grade that was sold, and helping customers know to specify the quality they want is a large part of our educational efforts overseas. 

 

The good news is that the United States is the most transparent about grain quality of any producer in the world. Each year, the Council produces two grain quality reports, one immediately after harvest and one as corn is assembled for export to overseas customers. These reports and the roll-out events we use to present them to end-users are key parts of our continual outreach and are much appreciated year after year.

Over the long term, this is an issue our industry must address cohesively. Grain quality is enormously complex - a product of the production, transportation and export systems over which no individual or group has control, affected by inputs starting before seed development and ending after the final load out. 

This means we have to work across the industry to educate ourselves about the nature of these customer concerns, co-create solutions and implement them over time in ways that are achievable by all pieces of the chain. We at the Council are committed to having those conversations and finding paths forward that are productive for all involved. 

 

Meanwhile, as harvest continues in the Corn Belt, we are encouraging farmers to take a few proactive steps that will pay huge dividends when their grain reaches the shores of Japan, South Korea, Morocco or Colombia.

These include:

  • drying grain slowly to prevent stress cracks that could result in broken kernels.
  • adjusting fans properly to get rid of foreign material.
  • being careful when loading off the ground so as to avoid picking up rocks.


Our global customers truly value our ability to meet their needs year in and year out, and they appreciate the investment our industry has made to have representatives in their markets, talking to them about their concerns. On grain quality, we can confidently say we hear them - and we are working to improving our product, together.

Learn more about the importance of quality in this audio update.