By TIM ALEXANDER
SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — The 2019 Illinois Grain Tour, which aims to increase export sales for Illinois farm products, resulted in approximately $5.3 million in projected new purchases, along with promises of future investment from many of the 42 buyers of three countries who attended.
This is according to Bobby Dowson, international marketing director for the Illinois Department of Agriculture (IDOA), who organized the multi-day tour of state farms, agribusinesses, and other destinations along with colleague Jackie Alexander.
“We toured Illinois businesses that sell corn, soybeans, dried distillers grains (DDGS), equipment, and more, and included a stop at the Farm Progress Show. The tour is attended by those who want to make their businesses better back home,” said Dowson, whose department boasts offices in Springfield as well as in Hong Kong and Mexico.
The tour, which took around six months to coordinate, was attended by 35 participants from Mexico, three from El Salvador, and four from Vietnam. Potential buyer interests tend to shift from year to year, Dowson noted, with soybean meal seeming to draw the most scrutiny during this tour.
“Historically this grain tour has a lot of focus on corn. This year, we had a lot of interest in Illinois soybeans and soybean meal. With China out of the market, we had a lot of people who knew we had soybean meal, and there were a lot of questions. We also had some interest in DDGS and (commodity) corn and soybeans,” he said.
During the whirlwind tour, the international buyers visited RTS Farm in Auburn, GSI (a grain bin manufacturer) in Assumption, the 2019 Farm Progress Show in Decatur, the James Martin farm in Streator, Marquis Energy in Hennepin, Seedburo Equipment Co. in Des Plaines, Illinois Soybean Assoc. (ISA) offices in Chicago, and the CME Traders Group, also in Chicago.
Their visit to Farm Progress came on both the tour and the show’s opening day, and proved to be an eye-opener for many of the foreign guests.
“Illinois Lieutenant Governor (Juliana) Stratton and IDOA Director John Sullivan spoke to the group, and then we held the tour. I can tell you they were buzzing about the Farm Progress Show, and loved to see all the new equipment. Though most in the tour were buyers, some were farmers, and they loved the (show) and the new technologies – it was pretty amazing to them,” said Dowson.
Likewise, the time-honored, but now rare, tradition of open-outcry bidding in the CME Traders Group “pit” seemed to leave an impression on the guests, he recalled.
Over the past five years, the Grain Tour has generated approximately $354 million in sales of grains, oilseeds, DDGS, and equipment, according to the IDOA.
“The Illinois Grain Tour gives Illinois farmers, producers, and retailers the opportunity to showcase their world-class facilities to foreign investors,” noted Sullivan. “We lead the nation in soybean production, and nearly half the soybeans and corn produced in Illinois are exported, resulting in billions of dollars in direct sales annually.”
A separate group of buyers not associated with this year’s grain tour, from Taiwan, will be coming to Illinois in September and are expected to sign a letter of intent to purchase $210 million worth of soybeans, according to Dowson.
“The Soybean Association is a little happier nowadays,” he said.
All international participants in the Illinois Grain Tour are required to pay their own airfare and a participation fee prior to joining the tour.