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Amid Pandemic Trade Teams Turn Virtual

To Idaho wheat growers, summer months mean long days, warm temperatures, and harvest. Normally, summer also brings teams of international customers to visit fields that produce wheat they might purchase. Unfortunately, for the second consecutive year, the Coronavirus pandemic will prevent trade teams from visiting and leaves the U.S. wheat industry searching for meaningful ways to connect with overseas buyers. 

Idaho usually hosts three to five trade teams each year, helping show foreign customers the complete marketing chain from field to port. U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) is the industry’s international market development organization and the group that coordinates the trade team visits. In 2020, USW and its state partners had to quickly find a way to keep customers informed and engaged without being able to meet in person. Like with everything else, that meant meeting online. 

“Despite the pandemic from March 2020, USW has reached over 13,200 customers through virtual crop updates, short courses, technical trainings, crop quality seminars and trade servicing,” said Catherine Miller, USW Programs and Planning Coordinator. “USW effectively pivoted their strategy from in-person programs to virtual programs in the start of the pandemic and the customer outreach has more than doubled over the past year and a half.”

With a year of virtual programming now under the belt, the U.S. wheat industry is increasing and improving the virtual offerings. Regular webinars provide crop condition updates and harvest progress reports. Ten crop and harvest updates have been conducted thus far in 2021 and new ones are continually being added at the request of customers. 

Typically, the seminars consist of crop updates for three or four classes of wheat, depending on the needs of the target market. In addition, a supply and demand presentation provides insight into possible purchasing opportunities or challenges that could arise in the coming year. The updates are provided by a rotating group of state wheat commissions and USW staff. Idaho Wheat Commission Executive Director Casey Chumrau has presented to customers in China, Colombia, and Chile.

Later this year, the virtual events will shift to crop quality seminars, providing important end-use quality data for the 2021 wheat harvest to millers and bakers around the world. When in person, the crop quality seminars are a whirlwind style, multi-country trip spanning seven to 14 days. At least one wheat grower generally participates in the trips to provide a personal connection between the field and the end customer. This year, state wheat commissions are preparing videos to share during the webinars that showcase grower stories, highlight the uniqueness of each state, and help cultivate that important relationship between producer and buyer. 

Trade team visits are a critical tool in marketing development efforts and Idaho wheat growers look forward to the day we can once again host our friends and customers. 

“While in person programs are irreplaceable, the value of virtual programs remains high,” Miller added.

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