By Dusty Sonnenberg, CCA, Field Leader, a project of the Ohio Soybean Council and soybean check-off
The U.S Grains Council in conjunction with the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association hosted a North African Trade Team of feed grain buyers from the countries of Algeria, Ivory Coast, Nigeria, Tunisia, and Senegal. The buyers were looking for corn and distillers dried grains with solubles (DDGS) to import into their countries to use for livestock and poultry feed.
The trade team visited an ethanol plant, the Andersons, a beef feedlot operation, a large dairy, and took a combine and grain cart ride, and enjoyed lunch and a livestock farmers roundtable/meal. The goal was to share information and build relationships among the trade representatives, agribusiness people, and farmers.
Keith Truckor, a farmer in Fulton County, hosted the trade team for a meal the final evening. Truckor feels that the American farmer needs to do a better job building relationships with end users from around the globe.
“This is an opportunity through the U.S. Grains Council to have foreign buyers come to the U.S. to learn about the availability of grain supply, and also to get out to our farms and create relationships with Ohio farmers,” Truckor said. “It is a great opportunity for farmers to get involved and see how their check-off dollars are at work to develop market demand.”
Rafii Zarrouk serves as purchase director for Poulina Group Holding of Tunisia. Poulina Group leads Tunisia’s poultry market share, engaging in grain trading, animal feed, hatchery, broiler production as well as slaughter and meat processing. They import more than 1 million metric tons of feed grains, corn co-products and cereal grains each year.
Zarrouk participated on behalf of the Poulina Group because he needed to verify the availability of grain supplies given the events taking place in the Black Sea Region where they typically source their grains.
“I wanted to see firsthand and talk directly to the people involved in the supply and logistics of the grains and understand how we can plan our future procurement,” Zarrouk said.
Poulina had grain freighters contracted in the Black Sea that were unable to leave Ukraine and deliver the feed to Tunisia due to the Russian War.
“My first goal is to secure the grains,” Zarrouk said. “The next consideration is the quality and price. At the end of the day, our chickens need to eat.”
Poulina Group will purchase U.S. corn, DDGS, corn gluten meal, and soybeans. The trip to Ohio was to investigate the potential to source grain from the Toledo port versus the Gulf of Mexico ports.
“From Ohio we can purchase corn two to three months earlier than the Gulf. From November to January, it is competitive with other origins and even with the Gulf for our destination,” Zarrouk said. One concern is the moisture level of the corn. Corn loaded at the Toledo port is typically 1% higher in moisture than at the Gulf of Mexico or other ports. The moisture level makes a difference in the stability of the corn quality when it is at sea for that long. It typically takes one month for an ocean freighter to sail from Toledo to North Africa. The moisture also impacts the weight of the ocean freighter and the amount that can be transported. Zarrouk said they are willing to pay a little more to ensure a quality product will arrive at their destination.
Nesrine Rekik serves as purchasing manager for the Alfa Group. The Alfa Group is one of the largest feed mill processors in Tunisia, importing around 800,000 metric tons of feed grains per year. In addition, Alfa Group imports 30,000 metric tons of U.S. DDGS per year. Rekik had similar reasons as Zarrouk for participating in the trade mission. Rekik has been traveling to the United States every year since 2014, however this mission trip was her first to visit Ohio.
Rekik’s organization represents 40% of the market share in Tunisia. They own their own farms and slaughterhouses. Her goal was to evaluate the quality of this year’s crop. She purchased two boats from the United States in May of 2022 and the quality was very good. This trip was to ascertain the potential and quality of the crops for future purchases.
Like Zarrouk, Rekik also had contracts canceled from suppliers in the Black Sea region due to the Russia/Ukraine War. One new thing Rekik found as a purchasing opportunity was corn syrup. In Tunisia they typically use molasses in their livestock feed rations, but corn syrup could be used as a replacement. She was also impressed with the speed at which the Andersons could load a grain vessel.
One afternoon during the trade mission allowed the participants to ride in a combine during corn harvest and ride along in a grain cart. Rekik was impressed with all the technology that was being used and commented that such technologies were not affordable or readily available in Tunisia.
“I hope that farmers in Tunisia can one day have the same opportunity as American farmers with the technology being used,” Rekik said. “I wish they had those opportunities today. Our government does not have the same types of agricultural programs as the United States, and farming is still done there in the traditional way like it was done in the United States about 50 years ago.”