Farmers talk trade in Colombia

Posted March 26, 2015

Ask what is the price of wheat and most farmers will have a pretty good answer. Ask who is buying wheat – and why – and the question is a little harder. That is why the Kansas Wheat Commission works with U.S. Wheat Associates (USW), the industry’s export market development organization, to connect farmers with the customers that purchase the high quality hard red winter (HRW) wheat they produce each year.

Kansas Wheat Commission Chairman Scott Van Allen from Clearwater participated in one such trip in early March. The first stop on the 2015 USW Latin American Board Team was the second largest market for U.S. HRW in South America – Colombia.

The Colombian climate is not conducive for wheat production, so millers there depend on imports. The United States and Canada compete for market share, especially for the 76 percent of food wheat used for bread and pastries. Overall, Colombia has imported about 53.3 million bushels (1.45 million metric tons) annually. In 2014, about 43 percent of those imports originated in the United States.

Kansas Wheat Commission Chairman Scott Van Allen discusses the Kansas wheat crop with executives from Harina del Valle, the largest wheat importing company in Colombia.
“My reason for joining this trip was to meet with our customers face-to-face and assure them that we, as the producers of the wheat they purchase, produce the highest quality possible, given the weather limitations we encounter during the growing season,” said Van Allen.

The team, accompanied by USW South American Assistant Regional Director Osvaldo Seco, visited three different cities in Colombia to discuss current U.S. wheat crop conditions, challenges presented by gluten-free fad dieting, upcoming export opportunities in the Gulf of Mexico and newly imposed mycotoxin restrictions set by the Colombian government. These standards changed the maximum levels of DON (vomitoxin), which has already caused problems with some shipments, particularly for soft red winter (SRW) wheat.

“It is not always easy to envision exactly what USW is doing day-to-day to help farmers, but in Colombia, the team saw several firsthand examples,” said USW Programs and Planning Assistant Stephanie Bryant-Erdmann, who led the team. “The final day in Bogota, the team met with USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) members and millers to address the Colombian government's new DON restrictions. They were able to see FAS and USW working together with the Colombian industry to solve a problem that impacts both U.S. and Colombian markets.”

Colombia does not grow much wheat, so the team instead checked out a local sugarcane field.
In addition to Van Allen and Bryant-Erdmann, the 2015 Latin American Board Team included Von Johnson from the Nebraska Wheat Board and Ken Tremain from the Wyoming Wheat Growers Association. After leaving Colombia, the team traveled to Costa Rica and Mexico before returning home.

“We need to visit our customers on a regular basis and keep them informed and to give them the opportunity to notify us as to changing requirements and situations in the world of wheat,” said Van Allen. “We were able to assure our customers that we are doing everything possible to provide them with the highest quality and most reliable source of wheat anywhere in the world.”

By Julia Debes