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International wheat trade teams returning to Idaho

By Sean Ellis

Idaho Farm Bureau Federation

RIRIE – After a two-year absence, international wheat trade teams are returning to Idaho.

The Idaho Wheat Commission typically hosts several international trade teams each year that want to get a close-up look at the state’s wheat industry, but government-ordered restrictions related to COVID-19 kept them away for two years.

Having face-to-face relationships with customers is essential for Idaho’s wheat industry, said outgoing IWC Executive Director Casey Chumrau.

“We have not been able to do that for the last couple of years and we’re very happy to be able to invite our customers and our friends back to Idaho … to show them the entire wheat production process,” she said.

A technical trade team from South America visited Idaho Aug. 4-5 to gain more information about the state’s wheat industry.

The trade team consisted of millers, agronomists and other wheat industry experts from Ecuador and Peru, which purchased a combined 573,500 metric tons of U.S. wheat last year.

After stops in Minnesota and Oklahoma, they visited a farm in Ririe and wheat facilities in Blackfoot and Pocatello, and they liked what they saw.

“My impression is that the United States has the technology and knowledge to produce a very good wheat,” Alejandro Jaramillo, plant manager of Moderna Alimentos in Quito, Ecuador, told Idaho Farm Bureau Federation. “For us, it’s the best wheat in the world.”

According to the trade team, Ecuador imports about 1.45 million metric tons of wheat annually. The United States supplied 368,500 metric tons of that wheat in calendar year 2021.

Peru imports between 1.8 and 2.3 million metric tons of wheat annually and U.S. farmers supplied that nation 205,000 metric tons of wheat in 2021.

Jaramillo said being able to see all facets of the U.S. wheat industry was very important to trade team members.

“This opportunity to keep in touch with all the companies and the farmers who grow that wheat is very important to us,” he said. “It’s very important for us to see how that wheat is harvested, how it’s stored, how it’s transported. And it’s important for us to know about all of the conditions of your wheat because we need to be able to control all the parameters to make a good flour for good bread.”

Wheat is grown in 42 of Idaho’s 44 counties and the state

typically ranks No. 5 or 6 in the nation in total wheat production. Wheat ranks as the state’s No. 4 agricultural commodity in terms of total farm-gate receipts.

Idaho farmers produce more than 100 million bushels of wheat annually and half of it is exported. Being able to bring those international customers to Idaho to see the state’s wheat industry close-up and meet its farmers is invaluable, said Britany Hurst Marchant, the incoming executive director of the Idaho Wheat Commission.

“It’s a great opportunity for them come and see really, truly where their wheat comes from; to be able to drive the equipment and see wheat fields close up, to actually be able to feel the wheat kernels and taste them, to see the threshing,” she said.

This was the second wheat trade team hosted by the IWC this year. A team from the Middle East and Africa visited the Gem State in July.

“The goal of trade teams is to show customers the entire process of wheat production, from research to planting, through harvest and then all the way to the export market,” Chumrau said. “It’s very important for them to see and understand the entire process.”

“The customers like to see all of the details that go into the product that they are purchasing and we like to showcase how much care we are putting into producing a high-quality product for them,” she said.

Trade team members spent several hours touring the Hamilton farm in Ririe Aug. 4 and had the opportunity to drive combines while they were harvesting wheat. They spent time in the fields inspecting the wheat up-close and even tasting the kernels.

Farm owner Clark Hamilton said he welcomed the opportunity to meet the state’s wheat customers and host them at his farm.

“Idaho exports half of its wheat, so we want to have our customers come here so we can listen to them and learn how to provide them with what they need,” he said. “We value their business and it’s just a pleasure to have them here and share with them what we’re doing and build that relationship for the future.”

Hamilton and other Idaho wheat farmers who joined the trade team for dinner at the farm answered questions and explained in detail how Idaho wheat is grown, stored and transported.

Hamilton, who serves on the Idaho Wheat Commission, said the main message Idaho’s wheat industry wants to send to trade teams is “that Idaho is concerned about quality and how our product performs for the millers around the world.”

“I appreciate you coming,” he told trade team members before dinner. “I want you to know quality matters to us and we want to serve your market.”

“I’m really impressed,” Daniel Quispe, head of research and development for Molicentro, a wheat company in Lima, Peru, told Hamilton and the other Idaho wheat growers. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”