Virtually Important

By: Jill Parrent

In Illinois, driving down the road and seeing soybean and corn fields is as common as driving to the gas station to fill your gas tank: normal. But for international grain buyers, seeing this number of crops in a field is unlike anything they’ve ever experienced. On October 19, 2021 a grain tour was hosted by the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA). Similar to years past, the goal was to educate and encourage grain buyers to purchase Illinois grown grain, but this year’s had a twist – it was completely virtual.

Traditionally during the fall, international buyers visit Illinois to see harvest firsthand. Because of the current global situation, visiting in-person was not an option for many. The IDOA recently hosted a grain tour for 143 participants from five Latin American countries. Those countries included Mexico, Ecuador, El Salvador, Peru, and the Dominican Republic. The Illinois Soybean Association is proud to have been a sponsor for the virtual grain tour.

Jackie Sambursky, Bureau Chief of Marketing, Promotions, and Grants at the Illinois Department of Agriculture emphasized the importance of connecting with buyers around the globe.

“Similar to the in-person visit we traditionally hold, the goal of building relationships remained. This year was even more special than anticipated because buyers were able to gain an experience they wouldn’t be able to get even in-person. Clarkson Grain Company flew their drone to allow attendees to have a birds eye view and seeing more than we normally would be able to on the one-day trip,” Sambursky stated. Other aspects of the grain tour included seeing an Illinois farm and watching the process from choosing seeds to the end of harvest – the entire lifecycle of a soybean. Visitors were also able to experience equipment and virtually sit in the combine with the farmer harvesting their crop, something normally they wouldn’t have the opportunity to do by having to stay to a few stops on the tour. Transportation and infrastructure were also key components of the virtual tour.

With the same content as an in-person tour, the reach was higher than normal. In a typical year, approximately 40 participants will travel to Illinois for the tour, but this year was able to reach over 143 people. That record breaking number was a positive change, Sambursky emphasized, and one that proves how important continuing relationships no matter the circumstances.

But the human aspect is vital, and one that is irreplaceable. In 2022, the goal is to be back in-person for the fall tour. “Creating relationships is a long-term goal,” Sambursky explains. “Buyers want to know their investment is a good choice, and one worth reinvesting in over time. By being able to introduce the farmer on the ground at an Illinois farm, the quality of product and people prove why they should be trusted.”

This one-day event drives the opportunity for years to come for Illinois farmers. Creating a trust and demand for Illinois products not only increases sales but can improve relationships with foreign countries who rely on U.S. grown grain for their products. These events matter.

This virtual tour generated a projected $12.4 Million in sales.