Trip to PNW Port makes
by Terry Anderson
Wheat grown on a small Midwestern farm is not that far from the global market basket.
"Even though they think their operation may be small in the entire wheat industry, the decisions they make even on that small of a scale can have huge effects," said Royce Schaneman, executive director of the Nebraska Wheat Board.
Schaneman and 14 other Nebraskans participated in a four-day excursion to Portland, Ore., to observe how wheat is shipped, handled and marketed around the world.
The group included wheat producers and board members, elevator operators, grain merchandisers and University of Nebraska officials.
The annual trip, funded by the wheat board, has ventured to Portland for the last several years "because it's such an important grain marketing region," Schaneman said. "They say 40 percent of the wheat exported (from the U.S.) goes out of the Port of Portland."
And the wheat that leaves the port has to be just what the buyer wanted, said Brent Robertson of Elsie, a new member of the Nebraska Wheat Growers Association executive board.
"If they want high quality wheat, they get it," Robertson said, "and the quality is maintained from the farm to the ship and to the country. ... It's just incredible we're able to maintain the quality through the process."
Young wheat growers, Schaneman said, are better able to understand wheat's global market with what they learned on the Portland trip.
"If they decided to plant a type of wheat that had a poor baking characteristic, they now understand those characteristics carry through," he said. "If a customer gets a poor quality of wheat, they may not be willing to purchase again because they won't have confidence in the end quality."
A grain merchandiser, however, might be able to find a buyer because of what was learned on such a trip, Schaneman said. The hosts told of a similar group that visited Portland. The region that the group came from produced a less than good quality of wheat.
"They happened to be at a terminal elevator that had customers who needed that product," Schaneman recalled. "They were able to find a special market that could use their lower quality of wheat.
"Being able to visit the terminals in Portland helps them build relationships and be able to move different classes of wheat into niche markets or new markets. It creates lots of opportunities to make connections."
White wheat is one of those new products that overseas customers are requesting but is hard to supply because it's not produced in numbers large enough to fill entire trains, let alone ships, Robertson said.
Many local elevators "don't want to deal with it until we get to critical mass," he said.
That would be magnified once the grain reaches an international port.
Robertson said smaller shipping containers arrive at U.S. ports full and often times return empty.
"We'd like to reload them with a specific type of grain, that allows them to take a smaller quantity. So we can order 10 containers of this or that and not a whole shipload," he said. "That might be something we have to look at or find a shipper to do that."
Schaneman is in his first year as the wheat board's top executive, so this was his first trip to the Portland facilities. It also was a first for Neal Neidig of Madison, a first-year wheat grower and the only producer on the trip from eastern Nebraska.
"When you raise wheat in Nebraska and sell it, it's a whole lot longer journey than just going on a railcar," Neidig observed. "The logistics are amazing. There's no storage in Portland. ... They store wheat less than 60 days, normally about two weeks."
Schaneman said he is now better able to see what happens to wheat after it leaves Nebraska.
"We went through a lab in the Wheat Marketing Center. They showed us the machines and explained the tests they do to flour to determine the quality of a particular variety of wheat. Or if people are making a specific product, they do the testing to develop a mix of flour that will have the end product they're looking for," he said.
The Nebraskans witnessed the role of the Federal Grain Inspection Service. "Basically, we walked a shipment of wheat all the way through from Nebraska off to China or Japan," he said. "You see it coming in on rail cars, inspected before it was loaded onto ships and then see the ships leave."
One of the most vivid visual memories will be watching a ship being loaded.
"The size of those vessels and the amount of grain they can hold is mindboggling," Schaneman said. "We think if we ship a train of wheat that it's a lot of grain. But to see them unload the train and it barely covers the floor of the ship is simply amazing."
Wheat officials from Idaho and Oregon, along with buyers from Hong Kong also were part of the Portland tour.
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