Building a Preference

By Dan Lemke • From Summer 2018 American Soybean Magazine

Doug Schroeder (second from left) hosts one or two trade teams each year on his Champaign County, Illinois farm, like this team visiting from China. Doug’s mother is seated in front, his father standing behind her and his son, Bob, standing on the far right. Photo courtesy of Doug Schroeder

It’s more than just his convenient location that makes Doug Schroeder’s Illinois farm a popular destination for visiting international trade teams. He’s also a strong proponent for getting to know his soybean customers face-to-face.

Schroeder farms in Champaign County, about halfway between the University of Illinois in Champaign and the Illinois Soybean office in Bloomington. Visiting delegations are often taken to the Chicago Board of Trade to witness commodity trading in action and they frequently visit the University of Illinois to see the latest university soybean research. His farm offers a rural respite.

“Usually teams are coming from a classroom setting at the university or from the Board of Trade, so they’re ready to get out, see some hardware and touch some paint,” Schroeder said. “They’re usually very energetic and enthusiastic.”

While many international visitors are awed by the size and complexity of U.S. farm equipment and operations there’s far more to trade visits than the wow factor.

Much to promote

Schroeder raises corn and soybean with his son, Bob. When trade teams come to visit, Schroeder makes sure he also brings his retired parents to meet them.

“I try to stress our farming heritage because it shows we can be a consistent supplier,” Schroeder said. “I also stress how U.S. farmers are continually more productive. It used to be that 50-bushel per acre soybeans were good. Now we average 75 bushels per acre. That’s a great story that shows we are productive and sustainable by growing more on the same amount of land.”

Schroeder said in addition to sustainability, he also promotes U.S. transportation and reliability.

“I have been told the two primary reasons Colombia buys from the U.S. is because we have a consistent, quality product and reliable transportation,” Schroeder said. Colombia is the fourth leading importer of U.S. soybean meal. “This coming from a country on the same continent as Brazil and Argentina and they prefer U.S.”

Schroeder said he hosts one or two trade teams each year. He’s had nearly every type of trade team visit his farm from World Initiative for Soy in Human Health (WISHH) teams where soy nutrition is key, to Chinese teams trying to evaluate the size of the next U.S. soybean crop.

“Each person on these visits has their own agenda. Some are just building good will, some are fact finding and some are calculating,” Schroeder said.

Last fall, Schroeder hosted a team of buyers from Central and South America. Even though he was in the middle of harvest, he took the time to meet and talk with the delegation, including a buyer from Colombia.

“Three months later I was in his office in Bogata. When he came into the room, I saw him smile because he made the connection,” Schroeder said. “He had seen what he was buying and who he was buying from.”

It’s business

Doug Schroeder’s Illinois corn and soybean farm is a popular destination for visiting international trade teams. Photo courtesy of Illinois Soybean Association

Building relationships with customers is important, but trade visits are all about business. International buyers have to watch out for their own best interests.

“When we work with U.S. suppliers, it is interesting sometimes for us to come and know better how they do business, because everywhere in the world people do business differently,” said Daouda Guindo, CEO of Guindo & Company, based in Dakar, Senegal.

Guindo has been to the U.S. to connect with soybean farmers and suppliers. “We buy from you, and if you want to go the next step, we have to be more close to discuss, so they will more understand our needs and we more understand the way they do things,” he says.

Belinda Pignotti works with the U.S. Soybean Export Council in Central and South America and helps arrange trade visits to give buyers a first-hand look at the U.S. soybean industry. She said participants not only gather insight into how soybeans are produced and handled, they can talk to farmers and “see and touch the product.”

Trade visits also allow farmers the chance to tell their stories.

“The fact that U.S. soy farmers can have the chance to meet personally with customers and tell them how proud they are of their work, how their family business has remained generation through generation, builds a special bond between farmer and customer,” Pignotti added.

“These guys are businessmen. They do what’s best for them and they have to,” Schroeder stressed. “They make it clear that if they can get more for their money, if they can get beans into their plants cheaper, they will. Now, if the value is the same and they have a relationship built with us, they will often defer to us. That’s all we can ask. If it’s close, give us the benefit of the doubt because it’s a slim advantage we’re trying to achieve.”

Growth opportunity

Schroeder said if given a chance, farmers should be open to hosting trade teams. Not only does it present an opportunity to showcase their farming operation, it’s a chance to learn.

“I guarantee you will get more out of it than you put into it,” Schroeder said. “They want to know and learn about your farm, but it’s an opportunity to get to know your customer and learn about yourself as well. These are bright people. They’re decision-makers and some are running multi-million if not billion-dollar companies that are vertically integrated. I think farmers who don’t want to participate are missing out on a golden opportunity to improve themselves.”

Farmers may be able to improve themselves, but the ultimate mission of hosting trade teams is to facilitate sales. Schroeder said whether he’s promoting the nation’s strong transportation system, sustainability or soybean quality, the end goal is greater global soybean demand.

“It’s a big picture thing,” Schroeder said. “Sixty percent of Illinois soybeans go to exports. Anything we can do to facilitate growing that number to 61 or 62 percent is a good thing.”