February 21, 2013

Smaller world, bigger markets

130211-0151Nebraska Corn Board directors Alan Tiemann and Bob Dickey as well as staff, Don Hutchens and Kelsey Pope, attended the U.S. Grains Council's 10th International Marketing Conference and 53rd Annual Membership Meeting in Charleston, South Carolina last week to review strategies and opportunities for competing in the rapidly changing global marketplace.

The delegates were greeted by Jim Newsome, president and CEO of the South Carolina State Ports Authority. The fifth largest port on the Atlantic coast, Charleston enjoys deep water, a booming local manufacturing economy including many export-oriented companies, and a supportive state and local government. Already capable of handling post-Panamax vessels at high tide, the port is now engaged in a deepening project that will give it unrestricted deep water capability – and an open road for further growth.

Many speakers in the general session addressed concerns that U.S. producers have because of the drought, as well as country director's concerns of market access.

"All of us understand that this is an especially challenging year for coarse grains exports due to the U.S. drought and the short crop," said Tom Sleight, USGC president and CEO. "But all of us also know that the underlying dynamics point to rapidly rising global demand. The weather set us back this year, but U.S. producers and agribusinesses are ready to rebound strong."

130213-0145Sleight also emphasized that now is the time to redouble the Council's efforts – with customer servicing to sustain export demand and ensure that the United States can regain its market share next year, and with continued efforts in policy, demand building and co-product marketing. Through the USDA's export promotion programs, including the Foreign Market Development and Market Access Program, the Council is able to implement and sustain these efforts.

The Council's staff, Dr. Erick Erickson and Kimberly Karst, took time to identify a series of major underlying shifts that will transform the business environment for both producers and agribusinesses. In the near term, U.S. agriculture faces a familiar set of issues: increasing demand from a growing global middle class; increasing competition from foreign exporters; immediate pressures from the drought and short crop of 2012; challenges on market access and international acceptance of biotechnology. Underlying these issues are "megatrends," dynamics that will qualitatively change the nature of the global marketplace.

Erickson and Karst identified four such drivers: individual empowerment in a world in which, by mid-century, a majority of people will be middle class; the aging of the global population, especially in the developed countries; the diffusion of power in an international system in which the currently developing countries – already home to a majority of the world's people – will become the world's economic and military center as well; and increasingly severe land, water, energy, and other resource constraints.

After the meetings concluded, Kelsey Pope took a post-mission with a group of producers and staff from Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. They heard from the local offices of The Scoular Company and Norfolk Southern, as well as a tug boat tour of the Port of Charleston.

For more from the Conference, visit the Council's News Room and find pictures from the event on Flickr.

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