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Published October 22, 2012, 11:02 AM

West grain coast

A trade mission of Philippine-based soybean customers of Ag Processing Inc. in Omaha, Neb., visited the Fargo region on Oct. 15, co-hosted by the company and the North Dakota Soybean Council.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — A trade mission of Philippine-based soybean customers of Ag Processing Inc. in Omaha, Neb., visited the Fargo region on Oct. 15, co-hosted by the company and the North Dakota Soybean Council.

Peter D. Mishek, of Mishek Inc., an Omaha-based private consultant and former international marketing director for AGP Inc., led the group. AGP is an Iowa-incorporated farmer-owned cooperative that started in Iowa, but now has headquarters in Omaha. It has farmer owners in 16 states and Canada, including many in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Iowa and Nebraska.

Marie Marte, president and general manager of M.C. Marte Enterprises, acting as AGP’s representative in the Philippines, also accompanied the group. She said some of the Filipino guests were concerned about U.S. crop availability before making the trip here.

“We want to show the total agricultural system from the time of price discovery to the time it was planted, harvested, (transported to) elevators, and finally to the export terminal at the Pacific Northwest” — AGP’s export location, Marte said. She said supply is a preoccupation because of the back-to-back drought that included South America in 2011.

The event’s 21 visitors included representatives from 17 companies of the roughly 20 that make up the bloc Philippine Import Group Association. The 15-year-old bloc buys soybean meal in a “marketing bloc” from AGP in Panamax ships. Some individual companies make complete feeds and sell to small farms. Others have integrated operations and feed their own birds or fish.

A stand-out crop

The group toured agricultural locations in North Dakota, Minnesota and Iowa to get an idea of the differences among states affected by the drought, and those that were less affected.

“Availability” was the word Mishek used to summarize AGP’s big message for this group. “There were so many stories by Reuters and everybody else about the short crops,” he added. “Obviously that didn’t apply to North Dakota or Minnesota. It did apply to Nebraska and Iowa.

“North Dakota has a stand-out crop this year — a stand-out in terms of quality and quantity. We couldn’t ask for a better situation, other than we’d like it to start raining now for next year.”

John Crabtree, assistant director of the Northern Crops Institute, addressed the group at the NCI headquarters, saying states like North Dakota had a good crop this year, but that was mostly based on stored subsoil moisture, and not so much on rain. He said if the region doesn’t get adequate rainfall soon, availability could be an issue next year, with the accompanying price increases.

As a co-op, AGP was working to project the message that it offers a “great crop, and plenty of it,” Mishek said. He works with soybean associations in North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Nebraska and Iowa to help with international market development, both for private companies and “positioning regional crops in the buyers’ minds.”

New port construction on the West Coast makes now a good time to promote western soybean states like North Dakota as the “West grain coast” in the United States, Mishek said. “More and more commodities are flowing over to China and Southeast Asia. We’re going through the process of positioning, and physical marketing of our commodities.”

A group of buyers from Southeast Asia visited the area the week before, taking part in a short course on soybeans and their quality in the Dakotas and Minnesota.

The NCI and AGP, and the various state soybean councils, are working together to promote the region’s crops. The North Dakota Soybean Council helped host the Oct. 15 event. Stops that day included the new North Dakota State University Greenhouse Complex, the Commodity Trade Room at Barry Hall, and the NCI, including its feed mill.