Alan Klempel believes in promoting U.S. wheat to foreign customers - so much so that he spent 11 days away from home during calving to participate on a trade mission to Spain, Portugal and Morocco.

"I have to commend my family for really stepping up (during calving) when I was away," Klempel said. "And fortunately the weather was good when I was gone."

The Bloomfield, Mont., farmer, whose crops include wheat, was part of a U.S. Wheat Associates trip in March to the three countries.

U.S. Wheat Associates, often known as U.S. Wheat or USW, describes its mission as developing, maintaining and expanding international markets to make wheat more profitable for U.S. farmers and more valuable to its customers. About half of the wheat raised by U.S. farmers is exported.

U.S. Wheat, active in more than 100 countries, is funded through producer checkoff dollars managed by 17 state wheat commissions and cost-share money provided by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Klempel represented the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee on the mission, which included other U.S. wheat farmers and U.S. Wheat staff members.

"It was an eye-opening experience in many ways," Klempel said of the trip, his first overseas trade mission. "It helped to reinforce how important checkoff dollars are and how important is to work closely with our customers."

The U.S. wheat industry prides itself on the high quality of its product. Customers in Spain, Portugal and Morocco, who want wheat primarily for bread and pasta, stressed to the trade mission that they value the quality of the U.S. wheat, Klempel said.

But customers in the three countries also told the trade mission that they wish the price of U.S. wheat were lower, he said.

U.S. wheat is competing against wheat from the Black Sea Region, France and Germany, and lower transportation costs give farmers there a price advantage to win sales in Spain, Portugal and Morocco.

To compete successfully, U.S. farmers need to provide a superior-quality and consistent product that appeals to customers producing a high-quality product or targeting a speciality market, Klempel said.

Among the issues discussed were customer GMO concerns, which Klempel said are based on false perceptions and difficult to overcome.

Even so, everyone Klempel met was pleasant and expressed appreciation for their long-term relationship with U.S. wheat, he said.

"It was a long trip. It was a long time to be gone from home. But I'm glad I'm went," he said.