U.S. Grains Council photos

The U.S. Grains Council, headquartered in Washington, D.C., is an export market development organization. With 13 locations around the world, the group utilizes education and relationship-building visits to spread the word about U.S. grain quality and uses.

Ag Org Behind the Scene

Editor’s note: This article is part of a series on the behind-the-scenes work of agriculture organizations that aren’t often in the spotlight.

It could be argued that the U.S. Grains Council has never been more relevant.

At a time of trade war, an organization that ferrets out new markets and opportunities is important to farmers.

“I think the time period really highlights why organizations such as the grain council are so important,” says Kimberly Atkins, vice president and Chief Operating Officer of the council.

When politics or war or other factors disrupt existing markets, she says, the work of organizations that try to find and expand new markets becomes even more important.

That said, the federal government shutdown presents an additional challenge. The U.S. Grains Council depends in part on government programs such as MAP (USDA’s Market Access Program, operated through the Foreign Agricultural Service). MAP was approved in the recently passed 2018 farm bill, but Congress had not yet approved funding, and the shutdown means that isn’t happening. It also means many government export programs are not actively operating.

“We’re very dependent on MAP,” Atkins says. “That’s a pretty significant impact.”

The U.S. Grains Council was founded in 1960 and its mission is to develop markets, enable trade and improve lives. It is an export market development organization whose core goal is to build demand for U.S. products in overseas markets. It is supported by farmers, agribusinesses and programs in the farm bill that are administered by the USDA. The focus is on feed grains and related products, including corn, sorghum and barley as well as items such as distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS) and ethanol.

The organization has offices and staff around the world. Currently it maintains a presence in 13 locations and is managing programs in about 50 markets, officials say. It has a staff of about 80 and also works with consultants.

Atkins says that the present trade dispute with China actually brings the work of the council to the forefront because it has been working to identify and develop markets for corn, ethanol and DDGS in other markets, such as in Japan, India, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Mexico, Canada and Vietnam.

The South Asia and Southeast Asia regions have strong potential, for example, because there are long-term patterns of population growth and income growth which bode well for growing market possibilities, Atkins says.

“There’s just tremendous growth (in those areas),” she says.

Still, the large number of trade disputes happening right now do complicate the effort. Even Europe is an issue, thanks to the Brexit debate over the United Kingdom potentially leaving the European Union.

With those disputes and the amount of uncertainty in the world today, the U.S. Grains Council will continue to be an important tool for farmers in the United States, she says.

For more information, visit https://www.grains.org.

Gene Lucht is public affairs editor for Iowa Farmer Today, Missouri Farmer Today and Illinois Farmer Today.