Markets Mobilized

A look into how the U.S. Grains Council helped diversify sorghum markets during the U.S. Chinese trade dispute.

Written By: Julia Debes, U.S. Grains Council

Even in the toughest of times, the on-the-ground presence around the world and rapid response by U.S. Grains Council (USGC) staff can turn a crisis into an opportunity to build lasting markets.

Twenty vessels of U.S. sorghum were in transit to China when the country announced an immediate 178.6 percent preliminary anti-dumping duty on U.S. sorghum on April 17, 2018. The Council, as the export market development organization for the U.S. sorghum industry, went immediately to work – fielding calls by members and international customers looking for alternative markets for these sorghum shipments.

Buyers responded just as quickly to the situation and vessels were re-routed, albeit at a significantly discounted price, to markets including Spain, Saudi Arabia and many others.

“The intense efforts of the Council’s global network to find alternative markets for U.S. sorghum demonstrates how responsive we are as an organization,” said Deb Keller, USGC chairman and farmer from Iowa. “This work is emblematic of who we are and what we have done since the organization was founded in 1960.”

The Council’s long history working in China prepared the organization for the threat of another market shutdown. As a result, when China announced investigations against U.S. sorghum in February 2018, the Council had already laid the groundwork and immediately sprang into action to find potential alternative markets.

The Council worked with the Texas Grain Sorghum Producers Board and Association and the Texas Department of Agriculture to immediately redirect a trade team of U.S. farmers and agribusiness members to Spain from their originally scheduled visit to China. In March 2018, the team of six engaged with Spanish importers and end-users to promote the return of U.S. sorghum to the Iberian Peninsula. The delegation included a sorghum farmer from the Texas Panhandle and grain traders, as well as representatives from farm cooperatives, the ethanol industry and the Texas Department of Agriculture.

The delegation spoke during two conferences in Barcelona and Madrid, providing the Spanish audience real-time information on the U.S. sorghum crop and the outlook for prices.

“Spain knows U.S. sorghum,” said Alvaro Cordero, USGC manager of global trade, who participated in the overseas mission. “We wanted to make sure they were fully aware of the market opportunity and ensure, when prices were right, Spain would be the first country to buy U.S. sorghum.”

The Council continued to monitor developments and provide information to Spanish grain buyers after the trip concluded. When the sorghum tariff was announced by China, Spanish customers were among the first the Council contacted. Since the initial announcement, 250,000 tons (6.3 million bushels), valued at approximately $48.8 million, of U.S. sorghum have been discharged in Spanish ports.

Elsewhere in the world, Cordero and Ramy Taieb, USGC regional director for the Middle East and Africa, were on the ground in Saudi Arabia the week the new tariff was announced. Building on existing engagement in the market, the pair met with buyers to discuss the distressed sorghum vessels and how U.S. sorghum could help meet Saudi Arabia’s growing feed demand.

After the meetings in April, four Panamax shipments of U.S. sorghum, equaling about 280,000 tons (7.1 million bushels) valued at approximately $54.6 million, were re-routed to Saudi Arabia and discharged in Dammam port. The major feed mills that purchased these shipments continue to show significant interest in sorghum – not only due to price, but also as an alternative coarse grain these companies can use and easily adapt to their processes.

In addition to these large markets, the Council continues to highlight the economic and nutritional advantages of U.S. sorghum to buyers. The Council has distributed the latest feeding guidelines for sorghum from the United Sorghum Checkoff Program and is talking candidly and frequently with customers to promote the coarse grain.

Back in the United States, representatives from the Council and the National Sorghum Producers are in ongoing conversations with the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) on responses to Chinese duties and new programming that could mitigate its long-term impacts on the sorghum industry. The Council continues to monitor the trade environment between the U.S. and China and is prepared to defend sorghum shipments – whether to China or elsewhere – as a means of supporting the nation’s farmers.

The cumulative results of these direct conversations and information-sharing with end-users as the Chinese sorghum tariff situation continues to unfold embodies the work the Council does 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days of the year, on behalf of U.S. farmers and agribusinesses – to develop markets, enable trade and improve lives.