ISA conference strengthens rapport with soybean buyers

Posted September 25, 2013 at 2:07 pm

With a handshake and a smile, and an occasional embrace, Iowa Soybean Association (ISA) members and staff reassured customers from around the world recently that the state and nation will continue to be a reliable supplier of high-quality soybeans.

Hundreds of soybean buyers and industry officials from 47 countries gathered at The River Center in Davenport for the 2013 U.S. Soy Global Trade Exchange and Midwest Specialty Grains Conference and Trade Show from Sept. 16-18. The purpose of the event was to grow soybean demand and facilitate trade.

The conference and trade show, funded in part by the soybean checkoff, was hosted by the U.S. Soybean Export Council and the Midwest Shippers Association. The ISA was a sponsor. Marketing, transportation and supply and demand seminars, among others, were held. The final day featured tours of John Deere’s World Headquarters in East Moline, Ill.; River Gulf Grain in Bettendorf, a barge loading facility and Lock and Dam No. 14, where U.S Army Corps of Engineers officials provided an overview of shipping on the Mississippi River.

“This conference is absolutely about building relationships and connections. The good news is that many of these (conference goers) are old friends,” says Kirk Leeds, ISA CEO. “That’s important because when they (buyers) go to the market place, the U.S. is not the only supplier. Because of these relationships, (buyers) know when they buy soybeans from the U.S. that these are quality soybeans and they will get them on time.”

After another challenging growing season, buyers seemed most interested in this year’s soybean crop. ISA representatives were peppered with size and quality questions. Harvest has begun on a very limited basis in Iowa, though combines won’t roll on a widespread basis for a couple of weeks.

ISA President Brian Kemp, who farms near Sibley, described crop conditions on his farm and throughout Iowa to interested parties. Many foreign trade delegates visited farms prior to and after the conference.

Kemp says buyers believe Iowa’s farmers – though supplies will be tight – will meet their needs, noting ISA earned that trust by maintaining close relationships with customers.

“I find it interesting to reconnect with some of the foreign buyers that have visited my farm over the years or met while on some of the international trade missions. The relationships are so important when marketing our soybeans internationally,” Kemp says.

During the last marketing year, the United States exported about 1.8 billion bushels of soybeans valued at $23 billion, according to industry statistics. Exports have nearly doubled since 2000.

That’s because check-off funded efforts has helped turn China into the biggest international destination for U.S. soybeans, according to the United Soybean Board (USB). Last year the country purchased 850 million bushels from the U.S., or more than one out of every four rows grown.

During the conference multiple Chinese companies agreed to purchase 177.5 million bushels of soybeans worth $2.8 billion.

“China needs our U.S friends to plant better and more soybeans,” says Shang Quingmin, director general of China’s National Grains and Oils Information Center.

Deirdre Webb, director of the Irish Grain and Feed Association, says sustainability is very important to European customers. Among other reasons, Webb says she attended the conference to learn how learn more about U.S soybean production.

After speaking with several farmers, Webb says she’s satisfied farmers are taking steps to prevent soil erosion and fertilizer runoff and to ensure future generations have an opportunity to farm.

“It boils down to three words – know your supplier. These events are really, really important to build the supply chain,” Webb said.

Last year Ireland imported 790,000 tons of soybean meal and hulls for livestock feed, she says.

Big or small, ISA member Larry Marek says all buyers are important. The United Soybean Board director from Washington said the conference helps to put a face to products.

“(Buyers) like to know their suppliers,” says Marek. “The more they know, the better customers they become.”

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