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Trip to Mediterranean enlarges perspective for grain marketer

Staff writer

Terry Vinduska of Marion recently returned from a trip to the Mediterranean as a member of the U.S. Grains Council (USGC).

Vinduska is treasurer of the organization, which is the marketing arm of the various grain associations in the U.S. Officers and staff members travel to a different region of the world each year to develop new markets and enhance existing markets.

This year the group visited Egypt, Jordan, Morocco, and Spain.

“I was amazed at how they view U.S. farmers,” Vinduska said. “They look at them as experts in agricultural production, and they are amazed at how few people it takes to farm large acreages.”

According to Vinduska, the general public cannot afford to eat imported U.S. beef in these countries, but through the efforts of the U.S. Grains Council, farmers have been given access to grain and other feed nutrients to improve the quality of their own production.

The USGC has been working to develop markets in the Mediterranean area since the 1990s. As a result, grain purchases have increased sharply. According to Vinduska, U.S. grain sales to Jordan, Egypt and Morocco, during the past four years, have averaged 39.14 million bushels per year.

In Jordan, the USGC group visited a feed mill and a 2,800-head dairy operation near Amman. Jordanian livestock producers import nearly all agricultural inputs such as raw materials for feedstuffs. The imports allow producers to supply meat, milk, and eggs to their domestic consumers.

Vinduska said much of Jordan is “intense desert,” with small groups of people living in little valleys with enough moisture to provide some green growth.

In Egypt, water buffalo are common. Farmers have two or three head or small herds that are used to provide milk and meat for themselves and others. Heifer and bull calves are sold directly to buyers or at small livestock auctions.

USGC helped Egypt establish a privately-owned Cattlemen’s Bank which provides loans to farmers for grain and other feed nutrients. Instead of butchering young bull calves, they feed them to a full live-weight of 1,000 pounds, providing Egyptian consumers with an affordable meat.

“Buffalo is very tasty and tender if grain-fed,” Vinduska said.

At one farm the group visited, the farmer had 12 head of milking buffalo. The barn was located directly under the residence. One room in the barn was a feed bin.

“He was happy,” Vinduska said. “He was one of the better managers. He even uses some artificial insemination and pays taxes.”

Vinduska was impressed with the laid-back lifestyle of the rural people in the region. Rural villages are much like American small towns used to be a generation or two ago, he said. They are bustling with activity as locals patronize a variety of businesses. Outlying residents make almost daily trips to town to socialize and shop.

The noon meal is the largest meal of the day and is a long, drawn-out affair often lasting one to two hours. Everyone, including school children and workers, goes home for dinner.

In Morocco, small herds of sheep and goats are common. At one place, Vinduska viewed a walkway built over a freeway to provide access for grazing animals to the other side of the highway. There are no fences, and flocks are herded to and from grazing areas.

USGC helped Morocco develop and organize its poultry industry including feed mills, hatcheries, egg producers, poultry meat producers, and processors.

In 2008, four feedlots and three large dairies were built or were under construction based on the U.S. model, bringing total animal capacity to 28,000 head.

The Moroccan government hopes to double per capita meat consumption by 2020.

Of course, all of this activity results in more sales of grain produced on American farms.

Vinduska said USGC is helping farmers in the Mediterranean countries to improve their standard of living.

“We are not trying to change their culture,” he said. “We are just trying to help them do better with what they have. They see that we are working to help them. We are not there to bleed them, but to make them prosper.”

Last modified Feb. 25, 2009

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