In a joint trade mission conducted by USMEF and the U.S. Grains Council, executives from several state corn marketing organizations traveled to Belgium, Spain and Ireland last week for a firsthand look at opportunities for U.S. agricultural exports in the European Union. Participants included:
- Craig Floss, CEO, Iowa Corn Growers Association and the Iowa Corn Promotion Board
- Don Hutchens, executive director, Nebraska Corn Board
- Laura Knoth, executive director, Kentucky Corn Growers Association and Kentucky Small Grain Growers Association
- Gary Marshall, CEO, Missouri Corn Growers Association and Missouri Corn Merchandising Council
- Rodney Weinzierl, executive director, Illinois Corn Marketing Board and Illinois Corn Growers Association
- Jim Zook, executive director, Corn Marketing Program of Michigan
The group was accompanied by John Brook, USMEF regional director for Europe, Russia and the Middle East and John Hinners, USMEF assistant vice president for industry relations. U.S. Grains Council staff in attendance included President and CEO Tom Sleight, Director of Industry Relations Lyndsey Erb-Sharkey and Cary Sifferath, regional director for the Middle East and Africa.
“From a corn state perspective, representing grain farmers, it’s great to see USMEF and the U.S. Grains Council working hand-in-hand,” said Floss. “So all of our visits on this trade mission were set up to achieve that.”
The delegation’s first stop was Belgium, where briefings were received from the Foreign Agriculture Service staff in Brussels. The group also met with meat sector representatives from the European Livestock and Meat Trading Union (UECBV), food industry executives from FoodDrinkEurope, representatives of COCERAL, the European trade association representing cereal, rice, feedstuffs and oilseeds producers, and the trade policy staff of Europe’s largest farm organization, Copa-Cogeca. After touring a local hog operation, the team met with EuropaBio, the European trade association for biotechnology-oriented industries.
In Spain, the group toured a facility operated by Joselito, a processor specializing in cured Iberian ham products. They also met with representatives of Group Abengoa, Spain’s leading producer of ethanol. In Ireland, the delegation received informative presentations from the Irish food promotion organization Bord Bia and the Irish Feed and Grain Association. They also visited a local cattle operation and toured Nolan’s of Kilcullen, one of Ireland’s best-known butcher shops.
“All of the industry representatives provided us with excellent information,” said Hutchens, “But every meeting we had really highlighted the fact that if European agriculture is going to be sustainable, it’s going to have to adapt to, and approve, advancements in biotechnology. Every industry group we with was frustrated, and that surprised me to some degree. Everyone seems to see the light, except the EU commissioners.”
Floss offered similar observations.
“One of the biggest eye-openers on this trade mission was the level of frustration that many have with the European Union and its inability to make decisions,” he said. “That’s not only preventing a lot of grain flow, but it ultimately impacts Europe’s livestock and meat sectors as well.”
Before departing Ireland, the team enjoyed a reception at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Dublin, where they were joined by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Guests at the reception enjoyed a tasting “contest” in which U.S. grain-fed beef was paired against local, grass-fed product.
“Meat trade with Europe can definitely be a two-way street,” observed Hutchens. “There is some U.S. demand that can be met by red meat products from Europe, and there is plenty of evidence that Europeans enjoy well-marbled cuts from the United States.”