Soybean Sales Support
Exporting 60 percent of Illinois’ soybeans each year to customers around the world is complex. That’s why the Illinois Soybean Association (ISA) checkoff program supports every step of the international sales process to increase export volumes where Illinois has a strategic advantage.
Top international destinations for Illinois soybeans and soy products include Taiwan, Indonesia and Mexico, according to U.S. Census Bureau export data.
“Based on recent global production, Illinois ranks as the fourth-largest soybean producer in the world,” says Mark Albertson, ISA director of strategic market development. “And, Illinois is uniquely positioned to efficiently send soybeans to customers around the world. Our annual soybean exports are worth roughly $3.5 billion.”
Albertson stresses the importance of building and strengthening relationships throughout the soybean sales process. That takes people. So, he leads a team dedicated to facilitating Illinois soy export growth.
“To ensure and grow markets, our team regularly connects with customers to meet their needs and anticipate new opportunities for soy products from Illinois,” he says. “From welcoming trade teams to responding to purchase inquires, ISA shows existing and potential customers how Illinois soybean producers deliver a reliable, sustainable supply with consistent quality.”
Many ISA efforts position Illinois soybeans and soy products to help customers – and by extension producers – succeed, according to Albertson. When engaging international stakeholders, ISA leaders share how checkoff program initiatives allow Illinois producers to meet customers’ desires.
“For example, ISA initiatives that focus on production technology and water quality ensure a reliable, sustainable soybean supply,” Albertson says. “Work related to feed and biodiesel helps customers maximize value from our soybeans. And, transportation efforts ensure efficient product delivery. From transactions to logistics, ISA serves as a customer resource in countless ways.”
Soybean Sales Support: Relationships
Relationships foster sales – even international soybean sales. ISA builds and maintains relationships with soybean, meal and oil buyers around the world on behalf of Illinois soybean producers.
“Soybean buyers want to see firsthand where their product comes from and how it is grown,” says David Headley, ISA trade team lead. “Illinois offers opportunities to see all aspects of the U.S. soybean industry, from fields, to logistics and transportation, to the Chicago Board of Trade.”
Headley coordinates tours for more than 30 trade teams visiting Illinois each year. He customizes trips so they see the industry aspects of most interest and hear from relevant experts. He takes trade teams to farms, elevators, cooperatives, industry partners and more.
“We provide high-quality visits for trade teams,” he says. “Many international facilitators request that Illinois be part of a visit to the U.S. because of what we’ve shown them in the past.”
In 2017, ISA hosted more than 350 international delegation members outside of the Farm Progress Show. In 2018, ISA welcomed 440 visitors and hosted groups from Laos, Sri Lanka and Romania for the first time. Even more guests are expected in 2019. Headley attributes some of that ongoing increase to ISA’s Chicago office, which has opened new opportunities.
“Our Chicago office has become a draw for visitors,” he explains. “It allows us to meet with high-level foreign officials during layovers in Chicago, connect with consulate representatives who encourage visits from their countries and many others.”
During these visits, buyers often meet with farmers, like Doug Schroeder, ISA director and vice-chairman who farms near Mahomet, Illinois.
“Hosting trade teams on my farm allows me to thank groups for their business, listen to their needs for product and delivery, and encourage them to continue buying soybeans from us,” Schroeder says. He has hosted teams from Latin America, China and more.
In addition to welcoming visitors to Illinois, ISA organizes strategic trade missions to build and strengthen relationships abroad. During the past few years, ISA leaders have met with customers and other stakeholders throughout Asia, Europe and Central America.
“The more relationships we build and the better we understand the global industry, the better we are able to compete,” says Schroeder, who visited soybean industry stakeholders in Taiwan, China and Indonesia last winter. “Visiting customers on their home turf gives us a much clearer view of the demands they need to meet and how we can help them.”
Whether at home or abroad, Schroeder engages with customers to protect and grow soybean markets. He adds, “Trade team visits and trade missions are opportunities to protect the markets we have and listen for opportunities to grow.”
Soybean Sales Support: Transactions
The agreement between one party to buy something from another party sounds simple. But quite a bit goes into it. How do the buyer and seller find each other? What regulations must be followed? How are payments managed?
Those details can become difficult when dealing with language and knowledge barriers that exist in international transactions. That’s part of the reason ISA receives hundreds of requests about soybean purchases. Wading through the email, phone and social media messages to find legitimate opportunities and potential customers among those requests is paying off, literally.
“Inquiries from smaller companies or those in developing countries can be overlooked in the larger trading community,” says Eric Woodie, ISA trade analyst and facilitator. “These potential customers need help connecting with suppliers and navigating the import process. We make that connection, providing the opportunity to buy soybeans or soybean meal from Illinois.”
Woodie actively works through requests to identify legitimate buyers and introduce them to Illinois-based companies that can meet their needs, like DeLong, Ruff Brothers and others. Since 2017, he has made connections equating to more than $17 million and 1.8 million bushels in soybean and soybean meal sales. And he expects to see these sales continue to grow through 2019.
“ISA helps importers recognize the opportunities that exist in sourcing U.S. soy,” he says. “We bring a bit more transparency and confidence to the process.”
In addition to matching buyers and sellers, Woodie serves as a resource to both parties in their respective countries as they navigate import and export regulations, inspections and financials.
“Our efforts have developed repeat customers, strengthened our presence in countries like Indonesia and Taiwan, and established new customers in countries like Myanmar,” Woodie says.
His goals to continue reaching new customers include proactively reaching out within the aquaculture industry in Asia, continued information sharing about the quality and consistency of Illinois soybeans, and increasing connections between farms and end users.
“The trend of wanting to understand where food comes from is expanding globally,” he says. “The support we provide directly addresses that issue.”
Knowing the source of soybeans is only possible when we can get the product from Point A to Point B. And that’s another area ISA supports: logistics.
Soybean Sales Support: Logistics
Illinois is uniquely positioned to efficiently export soybeans and soy products anywhere in the world. With access to rivers, roads and rails, soy can be shipped in bulk or containers to key ports in any part of the country. That means the logistics exist on the seller end, but buyers may not know how to find transportation options and compare efficiencies and costs.
“Since many groups we work with don’t have the capacity to find and compare delivery options, we also connect customers and exporters to freight groups to help them link the sale through to delivery,” Woodie says.
Enter shipping containers. Modular shipping containers carry all types of goods. Often items like televisions, furniture, toys or other consumer goods come to the U.S. from various parts of the world in containers. And they can be filled with something else for their next trip. In Illinois, soy is one option. Eight percent of soybean exports from Illinois move in containers, with great potential to increase.
“The work we are currently doing with customers focuses on container shipping,” Woodie says. “They effectively meet the needs of smaller customers, especially when quality is a high priority.”
As a producer who has been face-to-face with customers, Schroeder agrees, noting that soy movement via container is growing. “We have a lot of empty shipping containers in Illinois that will go back overseas,” he says. “If we can fill them with soybeans, so much the better.”
For both container and bulk shipments, maintaining our infrastructure and understanding trade patterns is critical to ensuring sales logistics flow smoothly. And it’s another way ISA supports soybean trade.
Scott Sigman, ISA transport and export infrastructure lead, works with Woodie to offer connections and recommendations that optimize logistics for buyers and sellers and insights on timing and cost factors.
“Maintaining our infrastructure keeps Illinois producers competitive in the global market,” Sigman says. “ISA works with partners in all modes of transportation – rivers, roads and rails – and at local, state, regional and national levels. Our goal is to ensure our systems can efficiently deliver soybeans.”
To that end, Sigman has led ISA involvement in transportation innovations.
“Because containerized soybean shipping offers great advantages to both customers and Illinois soybean producers, we have been involved in efforts to figure out how to ship containers either on barges or vessels through inland waterways to ports,” he says. “Options like these could increase container export volumes because of cost competitiveness.”
Sigman serves as a resource throughout the shipping and logistics industry, as well. This year, he has given multiple presentations on shifting trade patterns, using soybeans as an example. Understanding these changes helps companies adjust and keep products moving.