TRADE MISSIONS ARE VITAL TO ILLINOIS AGRICULTURE

As the Value Enhanced Projects Director for the Illinois Corn Growers Association/Illinois Corn Marketing Board, you might not think that I’ve traveled all over the world and visited with people from nearly every country as they traveled to IL. But I have. And this “exchange program” of visiting with other countries and having other countries visit us is a vital part of our programming to help corn farmers in IL.

Illinois is a massive exporter of corn. In fact, reports yesterday from the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) indicate that agriculture as a whole is in our second highest year on record for agricultural exports. Agriculture is one of the only major sectors of the American economy with a trade surplus, which is expected to be $30.5 billion this year.

One of the ways that we keep that export market vibrant and growing is to meet with buyers in other markets to tell them about our products. In much the same way that a printing company sales rep might knock on your door to market their printing services or the Schauwn man stops by every week, we simply make appointments to meet with buyers at their homes and businesses, even if those businesses are an ocean away. This is really the only way to truly understand what a buyer needs, the quality they are looking for, the price they expect, and how we can work together to deliver on that demand.

Buyers also want to come to Illinois to see how the products are grown or created. Company reps from China looking to buy dried distillers grains (DDGS) from our Illinois ethanol plants might schedule a trip to our state and I will set up visits to ethanol plants for them, both educating them about the industry and connecting them with potential Illinois suppliers. This is an important way that we can add value to Illinois corn – by creating new markets for Illinois corn by-products.

Representatives from other countries come to Illinois for other reasons too. Sometimes they simply want to learn about US agriculture and experience planting or harvest. Sometimes they want to discover our methods of livestock production and how corn and DDGS fit into our feed rations. They may want to see how Illinois farmers live. But even these discovery missions make important connections between Illinois farmers and overseas buyers that we simply can’t ignore.

In the past year, I have worked with potential buyers from Mexico, Vietnam, Korea, China, Japan, Panama, Brazil, Central America, Algeria, Libya, Egypt, and more.

Conversely, Illinois farmers need a knowledge of overseas markets to try to find ways to fulfill those market’s needs. Sometimes, experiencing a culture first hand helps Illinois farmers see markets that have never before existed. One good example is “chicken paws” that are coveted in the Chinese market. These delicacies are simply the feet of the chicken that US meat processors used to just throw away. Visiting and making connections with Chinese buyers helped us understand that there is a market for those extra parts of the chicken and now our US chickens have more value. And, of course, Illinois corn feeds those chickens so value in the poultry market is a good thing for both of us.

Illinois farmers have recently been to missions in Brazil, Mexico, Panama, and China just to name a few.

In Panama, IL Corn leadership met with the Panama Poultry Buyers Association who was considering switching their corn purchase from US Corn to Argentine Corn. After visiting with them twice in Panama City and once in Illinois, we have been able to maintain that market and address their concerns. They are still buying 95% of their corn from the US.

Also in Panama, we visited the Panama Canal. Current upgrades to the Panama Canal will double their capacity to ship grain, but the America’s failing infrastructure including our 80 year old locks and dams, leave us lagging behind in the global transportation system. It is very important for our Illinois corn farmers to understand Illinois’ precarious position in global infrastructure so that they can lobby their elected officials appropriately and hopefully resolve this issue.

Regarding upcoming trade missions, at the end of September, I will spend the week with a company from the Dominican Republic. Two years ago, SID Grupo was buying 100% hard endosperm corn from the US. Likely, because of our position on the Mississippi, Illinois, and Ohio Rivers, much of that purchase was Illinois corn, to the tune of about 3.2 million bushels per year. Last year, our hard endosperm corn quality was poor so they switched their purchases to Argentine corn. In September, I will hopefully help them re-establish relationships with sellers of hard endosperm corn here in Illinois and we have several meetings set up with specialty grains shippers to regain that market and renew those relationships. $13 million dollars in grain sales is at stake, but the economics becomes much larger when you consider the entire production chain.

Traveling may seem glamorous, but in the end, Illinois Corn’s trade missions are about education and markets. After all, the near record exports we’re experiencing this year are the economic engine helping to pull America out of the recession. Our “exchanges” are simply programs that are too important to ignore.

Phil Thornton
ICGA/ICMB Value Enhanced Project Director

FARM PROGRESS SHOW EXPERIENCES RAIN DELAYS

We’re right in the middle of Farm Progress Show in Iowa where heavy rains are definitely making things a little … damp.

Check out this link from WIRL’s Meghan Grebner showing Precision Planting’s precision pit that is supposed to be 6′ deep.  Yikes.

Farm Progress Show said that their only goal was trying to drain the water and keep people moving safely into the tent city.  They delayed the opening of the show today by two hours to prepare.  You can check out their press release here.
More importantly though, what does all that rain mean for the corn farmers in Iowa who are probably contemplating harvest?  Harvest is just beginning in IL and I know we all feel for those Iowan’s after being rained out of our own harvest last year.
Whoever said too much of a good thing is a better thing?

VOTE

Among other things, one important activity our board engaged in last week was the Illinois Ag Legislative Roundtable’s Candidate Forum.  We heard from Governor Pat Quinn, his opponent Representative Bill Brady, Congressman Mark Kirk who is running for Senate and his opponent and current Treasurer of the IL Alexi Giannoulias.
It really was a great night.  The weather was lovely as we listened to them from the middle of a cornfield in McLean County and the food was good.  Any farmer knows that the quality of a meeting can be partially judged by the food, right?
But this post isn’t really about the candidates.  Nor is it about the food.  It’s really about just plain voting.
I came home from the Candidate Forum and I was energized.  Actually, I was less energized and more motivated.  The candidates probably don’t really inspire me as much as they motivate me to want to control government spending.  Will any of our candidates do that?  I’m not sure … but the fact remains that I’m going to vote simply because I want someone that might control spending to get into office.

 

And as motivated as I was, as I spoke to my neighbor, she was equally unmotivated.  She doesn’t care.  She doesn’t think her vote matters.  She believes that all the candidates on every side of the aisle are biased and uncaring about the American/Illinois public.  She believes that they are all seeking election for the wrong reasons.

She can’t find a candidate that she can believe in.  She can’t find a candidate that she mostly agrees with and she doesn’t understand how she can prioritize to just one topic and vote according to candidate positions on that topic.

I’m sure I can find fifty other people in the span of the next fifteen minutes that agree with her.

In the chronicals of our history I’m sure there are also millions and millions of letters, articles, stories that aim to inspire people to vote.  Will I do any better than any of those?  Likely not, but I can’t ignore it all the same.

Perhaps the problem with our country is not so much the politicians as it is the plain old citizens – the ones that are uninspired, apathetic, and too busy to care or notice what’s happening.  Perhaps the problem with our state is that its citizens aren’t demanding more accountability, more access, and more information.  Perhaps the problem with our democracy isn’t the vote, but the voters themselves.

To paraphase something Treasurer Giannoulias said in his address, things in Washington aren’t going to change until elected officials quit serving their party and themselves and recognize that they are serving the American public.

Perhaps things in Washington (and Illinois!) aren’t going to change until each and every ordinary citizen does exactly the same.

Vote.

Lindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

FAMILY FARMERS, FRONT AND CENTER IN IL AND NATIONAL MEDIA

While I’ll apologize up front for less meaty content on our blog the past couple weeks, I’ll also offer you that we’ve all been in meetings, at the state fair, and now in our Illinois Corn Marketing Board and Illinois Corn Growers Association Board meetings just drumming up fabulous content and thought provoking concepts for you to mull over in the coming weeks.

During our board meeting today, Senate Candidate and current US Congressman Mark Kirk addressed both boards with your standard campaign speech and then opened the floor for questions.  During that portion, one board member asked that all the family farmers in the room raise their hand.  Of course, the view for those 5 seconds was all hands.

This perception that the majority of farms are owned my corporations like Monsanto, Pioneer or ADM is one of the things the Corn Farmers Coaltion is trying to change.  There’s this ad that we’ve had in DC metro stations, at Reagan National Airport, and in Washington, DC publications like Congressional Quarterly and Politco …

But there’s also a need to create awareness in the homes of farmers throughout IL that this really is a problem.  So there’s also this ad that was published in FARMWEEK on Monday, August 23 and will appear in AgriNews on Thursday, August 26.

This is our effort to let Illinois farmers know that this is a real problem – a HUGE problem – and that we are trying to fix it.  After all, the Illinois Corn Marketing Board was one of the first funders of this effort and is still one of the largest funders in the coalition.

We’ve made more than 100 million positive impressions (to clarify the marketing lingo, an impression is one viewing.  So these ads have been seen 100 million times, maybe sometimes by the same people, but rarely does one viewing actually hit home anyway.) with our legislators, thought leaders, and others in the DC area and now we’re bringing these ads back to IL to put a face on Illinois corn farmers.

Remember this?  These Corn Farmers Coalition ads are now all over the Normal, IL Corn Crib, teaching people the truth about the agriculture all around them and introducing them to the family farmers that feed them everyday.

Check out the Corn Farmers Coalition website to learn more about what we’re doing to set the record straight about corn farmers and US agriculture.  I’m confident that you won’t be sorry that you did.

mitchell_lindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

BE TRUE TO YOUR FUEL VIDEO CONTEST

Iowa college students were put to the test recently by the Iowa Corn Promotion Board.  They were challenged to create a video depicting their school spirit while being true to Iowa’s homegrown fuel, corn-ethanol.  With a Grand Prize of $5,000 on the line, students met the challenge head on. 

The following three videos were selected as the finalists.  The video with the most views on Iowa Corn’s YouTube Channel by Sept. 1 will be the winner. 

What a fun way to celebrate Iowa’s number one crop, corn! 

http://www.youtube.com/v/q_F3nXTS3M8?fs=1&hl=en_US&color1=0x234900&color2=0x4e9e00&border=1

http://www.youtube.com/v/yjt9hRNgwXM?fs=1&hl=en_US&color1=0x234900&color2=0x4e9e00&border=1

http://www.youtube.com/v/5l9ogXppIgo?fs=1&hl=en_US&color1=0x234900&color2=0x4e9e00&border=1

Becky Finfrock
ICGA/ICMB Communications Assistant

HOW ABOUT SOME POSITIVE PR?

Having your inbox flooded with positive news articles first thing on a Monday morning is a great thing!  I wish this happened every single week.

Just in case you need some pepping up on a long, hot Monday in August, here’s the quick list.  Check these articles out!

The Illinois Corn Marketing Board has been working on a “food desert” program where our farmers grow sweet corn for area food pantries.  So far, all involved parties seem to love both the positive feedback and the yummy, fresh sweet corn.  This project was also featured on the Produce Journal blog … everyone loves fresh sweet corn!

This really great Op-Ed in the New York Times says a lot of things that conventional farmers have been saying for years.  Grow food where it makes the most sense to grow food.  All soils, climates, areas of the country have competitive advantages for various crops.  If we want to feed the world, we need to use those competitive advantages to our … well … advantage.  Thanks Mr. Budiansky for bringing this important information to light.

And then, in a great move by the National Corn Growers Association, farmers all over the country now have access to draft editorials they can use, edit, and submit to their local papers, explaining to citizens all over our country that farmers are trustworthy and that conventional farming is part of the solution.  Other editorials focus on ethanol production, pesticide use, etc, providing scientific information to readers to dispell the myths that seem to cover the news.  Check out this letter to the editor  (make sure to scroll down to the third letter)and this one.

Have you seen any positive agriculture news floating around your hometown?

mitchell_lindsayLindsay Mitchell
ICGA/ICMB Marketing Director

YESTERDAY’S AGRICULTURE CANNOT FEED 9 BILLION PEOPLE

The main concern with the food movement these days is that old fashioned production methods will yield old fashioned yields, as in, one-third of our food would be lost.  This is a tough pill to swallow considering the people going hungry now all over the globe and the predicted population increase.

Still, no matter how many times farmers mention this life and death concern, it seems to fall on deaf ears.  How exciting to see our challenge graphically!  We hope this video will help more folks understand that while organic and local grown foods are great options, they are not long term solutions. 

http://www.youtube.com/v/ocPBHMnBM9U?fs=1&hl=en_US&color1=0xe1600f&color2=0xfebd01&border=1

In case you don’t have time to watch (you really should MAKE time), the main point of the video is “Yesterday’s agriculture cannot feed 9 billion people.”  I wish more people would really hear this message.