DES, MOINES, IOWA, US — For the first time since the COVID-19 outbreak the US Grains Council hosted its summer annual meeting in Des Moines, Iowa, US, in person and through a virtual meeting platform. 

Attendees heard from US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Tom Vilsack on the status and future of US agricultural trade, specifically on the USDA’s goal to boost trade.

“We are in the process at USDA to build back better for trade,” Vilsack said. “We’ve been working on removing barriers to trade and are ready to engage more frequently and closely with our counterparts in other countries. American agriculture is at the center of that work because if something happens internationally, US ag will feel that change. We are prepared and ready to look for more opportunities and diversity in trade partners.” 

He also touched on the increasing trend of biofuels in the future, specifically in aviation and marine use. 

“It will be a long time before we’re in the position where we won’t need biofuels,” Vilsack said. “We need to take a look at creative ways that we can use bio-based products. If we can do this, I think we’ll see a bright future for American agriculture.”

Ryan LeGrand, president and chief executive officer of USGC, presented insight of where he thinks markets stand for US corn, sorghum, barley, distiller’s dried grains with solubles (DDGS) and ethanol.

“During this time, we were challenged to think in new ways, figure out how we could use technology to keep servicing our customers and to keep markets open,” LeGrand said. “I can definitively say we have been successful. We’ve had record sales of US corn and US sorghum during this period. While it’s still a challenging trade horizon beyond our shores, it’s one that holds great promise.”

Nearly 400 in-person and online attendees also heard a recorded presentation by former World Trade Organization Deputy Director-General Ambassador Alan Wolff and a live presentation by futurist Christopher Kent of Foresight Alliance, who shared his vision for what US trade may look like in a post-COVID world. 

Rattan Lal, World Food Prize winner, Ohio State University distinguished professor and soil scientist, spoke on the role of agriculture in sustainability as the world emerges from the global pandemic. 

The summer meeting also included the 61st Annual Board of Delegates Meeting where Jim Raben, chairman of USGC, spoke about the grain industry’s determination and hard work during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Over the last year, our members provided customers around the world a virtual, behind-the-scenes look at their operations and ensured our global partners that the United States would continue to provide them a reliable, high-quality product, despite these uncertain times,” Raben said. “Likewise, our staff – time and time again – has stepped up to the plate and trade has continued despite the pandemic keeping us at home and the technology challenges we’ve all encountered and had to overcome.”

In the second half of the day, attendees spent time in one or more of the seven USGC’s Advisory Team (A-Team) meetings. Each A-Team has a specific focus – including Asia, ethanol, innovation and sustainability, Middle East/Africa/South Asia, trade policy, value-added and Western Hemisphere – allowing members the chance to offer input, set priorities and help determine the USGC’s course of action over the coming year.