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ALIM Conference matches buyers with producers



Marketing Kansas-grown wheat to the rest of the world requires not only a good, consistent supply of wheat, but also strong personal relationships with the folks who buy that crop.

Kansas Wheat Commissioner Ron Suppes knows this as much as anyone. A former president of the U.S. Wheat Associates, Suppes has traveled the world meeting foreign buyers and in turn, has hosted many of these buyers on his farm near Dighton. In November, the business of wheat marketing took Suppes and his wife, Shirley, to Buenos Aires, Argentina, for the annual conference of the Latin American Millers Association.

Suppes says the conference is an ideal venue for the region's millers to learn more about the Kansas wheat crop. It was attended by more than 520 milling companies from Central and South America--many of whom purchase large quantities of wheat from the U.S. The presence of a Kansas wheat farmer at the conference is a way for buyers to learn more about the people who grow the wheat that feeds their customers.

"I think having growers there helps to provide trust in our product. We're building relationships with millers and their families. Our customers can tell us firsthand what they like and don't like about our product, and only farmers can do something about it," Suppes says.

Ron and Shirley were joined at the ALIM Conference by Kansas Wheat Commission chief executive officer Justin Gilpin and marketing director Aaron Harries, who shared crop quality information from the 2009 wheat harvest.

According to Harries, Latin American millers at the conference are sensitive to the price of wheat, and the global supply and demand situation. "They ask many questions about the potential for further decreases in wheat production in the states resulting from lost acres to other commodities. They also want to be kept abreast of the latest in resurging interest in biotechnology in wheat," Harries explains.

Each year, about half the wheat grown in Kansas is exported, with much of it heading to Central and South American destinations. According to Suppes, Peru is a major customer and Colombia could be, if a free trade agreement between that country and the U.S. could be developed.

Argentina is a major competitor for this business with the U.S., but poor weather and government interference in that country's export business have resulted in smaller Argentine crops in recent years.

"This means less Argentine wheat is available to neighboring countries and opens the door for increased U.S. market share in countries like Brazil," says Harries, who adds that right now is a historic opportunity to lock in supplies of high quality U.S. wheat at a low price. "Latin American countries appreciate the reliable supply and consistent quality of U.S. Wheat. The future is promising to expand those markets."

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