The chairman of the marketing arm of the U.S. wheat industry says the U.S. government needs to do more on export promotion and food aid programs if it truly expects foreign trade to bring prosperity to wheat growers.
Henry Jo Von Tungeln, chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates, pointed out that while the United States remains the world's largest wheat exporter, there are “market forces coming into play that will affect America's future marketshare in wheat trade.”
To meet the challenges, the wheat industry needs aggressive funding for the Foreign Market Development program and the Market Access Program, Von Tungeln said. He also stressed that the United States needs to “listen to our customers and put their needs first” when it comes to potential future commercialization of genetically modified wheat.
Von Tungeln testified before the Senate Committee on Agriculture's Subcommittee on Price and Production Competitiveness. The focus of the hearing, chaired by Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., was U.S. agricultural export marketshare and the competition U.S. producers face in the world market.
Other actions the government can take to help boost wheat exports, according to Von Tungeln, include granting trade promotion authority (previously known as “fast track”) to the president, pursuing the Free Trade Area of the Americas and bilateral agreements, approving the U.S.-Vietnam bilateral trade agreement, and dropping the remaining unilateral sanctions against Iran and Cuba.
Von Tungeln also noted that there are actions the industry needs to take in order to increase the competitiveness of U.S. wheat. While applauding the export companies who have led the efforts in the Pacific Northwest to provide cleaner wheat, he noted that progress was slower at the other ports.
He said that although the grain trade “has been slower than our competitors to realize that we have to be marketers, not traders… we are starting to see them make a good effort” at developing better market relationships.
Von Tungeln also explained that growers have to produce a sufficient and reliable supply of hard white wheat for loyal U.S. customers who are beginning to go to Australia for noodle wheat. “It's an issue that is quickly reaching critical mass for certain markets,” he said.