• Last modified 3108 days ago (Feb. 16, 2011)


First class jetlag

Vinduska to speak at conservation dinner Saturday about international trips

Staff writer

Terry Vinduska’s recent travel, which included 10 flights, had re-set his biological clock to awaken the U.S. Grains Council Chairman at 3 a.m. every day the past week. In his position, it might be tempting to reconsider face-to-face conversations in lieu of phone or video conferences with foreign officials.

However, the Marion resident and the grains council realize the value of personal interactions.

“They say that when you come, they think they’re important enough to make that effort,” Vinduska said. “I love showing people around the farm. They like to show off what they have.”

Nowhere was this desire for respect more evident than in Vietnam.

Vietnam was the second leg of Vinduska’s recent journey in Asia. He spent three days — Jan. 25 through 27 — in the waterlogged peninsula.

Although the Vietnamese and U.S. relationship has been historically tenuous, Vinduska said every person he met in the country was friendly, and he encountered no animosity.

“It’s amazing because the U.S. is looked up to in Vietnam because of our successful economic model,” Vinduska said.

Vinduska generally characterized Vietnamese people as happy. Although he saw many families living in shacks along the Mekong River and he witnessed four people sharing a single scooter — complete with a child on the handlebars — he saw there was less desperation among the people than he saw in his earlier trip to India.

Part of this realization comes from knowing where they stand in the world.

“The Vietnamese know they are always going to be a small player,” Vinduska said.

Even successful Vietnamese operations are modest. In one of the outlets for grain in the country, Vinduska visited a fish farm along the Mekong River. A fisherman used his family’s expertise to start a fish farm.

“I’m sure it was a very risky endeavor,” Vinduska said.

The risk returned to grow the business into a three-acre farm. The current value of the business roughly translates to $250,000 an acre. The former fisherman also employs five people and is looking to expand again to create a hatchery on his land.

While Vietnamese officials realize Vietnam is a small market compared to China and India and that they have trouble storing grain in a hot, wet climate, they wanted to meet with Vinduska — first in Ho Chi Minh City, although the locals still call in Saigon, and then in Hanoi — to establish a relationship with a provider to purchase grain when prices are favorable.

“Right now they’re very price conscious,” Vinduska said. “But, no one can produce like we can.”

The U.S. Grains Council has maintained a presence in Vietnam since the end of the war in 1975.

“They want to buy from someone they trust. You have to earn their respect,” Vinduska said. “They don’t know how to buy and sell on the futures market; we want to educate them how to protect themselves, to do all the things we do to protect ourselves.”

There was no better way to establish a potential long-term relationship with the Vietnamese than for Vinduska to visit the country. As a side benefit, Vinduska said the food he ate was delicious.

“The fish was excellent, the poultry was excellent,” he said. “It was a different kind of spice.”

The part of Vinduska’s trip that held economic potential was Jan. 20 through 25 in India.

India is the second most populous nation in the world, and Vinduska expects the Indian population to leap ahead of China in the next few years.

In his second visit to India, Vinduska’s mission was building the foundation for a long-term payoff. Unlike China and Vietnam, the U.S. Grains Council has had limited involvement in India. While there have been agents in India mainly helping dairy farmers with their operations, India’s need for U.S. grain has not been substantial; India exported grain this past year.

Also unlike China, India does not desire high-protein feed for livestock intended for slaughter. While traditional Hindu diets have been recently challenged by Indian youth, the country is primarily vegetarian.

However, with a growing population and middle class, Indians are increasing their desire to consume fresh dairy products, although refrigerators are yet to become a regular household appliance.

“We’re five years away from importing significant grain,” Vinduska said. “Their middle class is emerging more rapidly than in China.”

Because of its size, India is a prominent world power; some Indians are pushing the country to be an innovative business power, as well.

One example was a feed mill owner in Ahmedabad.

“That guy is one in a million,” Vinduska said.

Ahmedabad is the fastest growing city in the most progressive state — Gujurat — in India.

The progressive nature has filtered to its business leaders. Vinduska was surprised and impressed by the feed mill owner’s business model.

He said that his salary is meant just to cover his living expenses, although those expenses include payments on a BMW.

“I didn’t sense business greed,” Vinduska said. “So many U.S. businesses just want to make a profit for themselves. He’s putting that all back into the business.”

The feed mill owner’s investment plan includes putting the company’s money into other local businesses and paying his employees 10 times what they would make with a competitor.

While the local leadership in India can be dynamic, Vinduska believes the federal government hinders the country’s growth. A weak federal government is evident in the country’s infrastructure. When traveling between Dehli and Mumbai, Vinduska observed one state highway was paved all the way to the state line where it promptly ended.

After trips to India and Vietnam, where the council is looking to invest in the future, Vinduska took an unscheduled trip to China to discuss the 120 million bushels of dried distilled grains that China has already imported.

To the dismay of one of its business leaders — China national cereals, oils, and food stuffs corporation, abbreviated COFCO — the Chinese government decided to pursue an investigation of anti-dumping charges against the U.S. for dried distilled grains, the byproduct from ethanol production, which serves as a high-protein animal feed. Using prices from 2008, the Chinese say DDGs purchased were overpriced and want to supplement that loss with a tariff, Vinduska said.

Vinduska attempted to persuade Chinese officials to reconsider the charges but did not have much success.

“If China doesn’t buy them at full price, someone else will,” he said. “It could be consumed more in the U.S. If you decrease overseas demand, it will make it cheaper for U.S. producers.”

When dealing with headaches such as he endured in China, Vinduska remembered the progress made in India and Vietnam and the mission of the council.

“We’ve improved lives of people all over the world,” Vinduska said.

Vinduska is scheduled to speak at the Marion County Conservation District Dinner Saturday at Eastmoor Methodist Church in Marion. He said he is going to spend half his time explaining the goals of grains council — connecting U.S, producers to exporters, developing overseas markets, facilitating grain exports, and talking to customers overseas.

For the second half of his speech, he is planning to share pictures from his world travels in a short travel log.

Last modified Feb. 16, 2011