By STEVE BINDER
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Thanks to the growing popularity of dried distillers grains (DDGs), Illinois scored its largest sale total from its recent annual hosting of foreign buyers.
Contracts for all products purchased in the coming year total $52 million, more than double the export sales registered during the combination of the past three years’ worth of so-called “reverse trade” missions.
“(Foreign buyers) were very surprised that we had much of anything at all, given our drought conditions this year,” said Jennifer Tirey, bureau chief of marketing and promotions for the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA).
“Part of the success this year came from our foreign office groups, in Mexico City and Hong Kong, for setting things up so well this year. It was a really good year for recruiting quality buyers.”
This year’s reverse trade mission included 22 grain buyers from China, Korea, Malaysia, Mexico, Peru, Singapore, Taiwan and Vietnam and lasted four days in mid-September. It included stops at a central Illinois corn and soybean farm, a grain, oilseed and food ingredient supplier and an ethanol plant in northern Illinois.
Tirey said about one-quarter of the $52 million in sales from this year’s tour were DDGs purchases for animal feed. The byproduct of ethanol production, DDGs are in high demand this year particularly because of the drought and its impact on corn prices.
“DDGs are a big thing right now for Illinois,” Tirey said.
But the overall quality of corn and beans consistently grown in the state is also a top selling point to foreign buyers, said Bob Flider, IDOA acting director. He called the purchases from the tour “extraordinary results” and said combined sales from the three previous years of tours were approximately $25 million.
“Our challenge now is to build upon the relationships started on this year’s tour and turn these initial sales into repeat business,” Flider said.
Exports are important to Illinois’ agricultural economy, making up about 39 percent of the industry’s cash receipts. In the year ending June 2011, the state sold $5.8 billion in agricultural products overseas, making it the fourth-leading agricultural exporter in the United States.
After Iowa, Illinois is the top-producing corn and soybean state in the United States.
“Illinois agriculture owes much of its success to foreign trade and the loyal customers it has throughout the world,” Flider said. “Nearly half of our crops are exported, and the demand from our trading partners has helped us to sustain a level of production that is among the highest in the United States.”