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Wheaton Grain’s relatively young export venture has already spurred its expansion, thanks to a buyers mission, a meet-and-greet event that introduces international customers to Wisconsin suppliers.

“Without the export business, we wouldn’t have been able to expand and purchase another facility,” says Darryl Custer, a grain merchandiser at Wheaton Grain, Inc., a family-owned grain elevator with affiliated trucking and farming businesses in Chippewa Falls. “It just got to the point where we couldn’t originate enough soybeans and corn in the fall to support our export business, so we had to reach out and expand.”

Since 2014, Wheaton Grain has exported corn, soybeans and distiller’s dried grains – a feed product from local ethanol plants – to China and Thailand. The Custer family credits their export business to the Value-Added International Feed Buyers Mission, an orchestrated event during the Madison-based World Dairy Expo that connects significant international buyers with quality Wisconsin feed suppliers.

The Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection, Food Export Association of the Midwest USA and various interest groups sponsor the feed buyers mission and similar ones for other Wisconsin goods, such as cranberries, dairy products, baking ingredients and processed foods. All seek the same result: new exports and a wealth of opportunities for Wisconsin businesses. That’s good for Wisconsin’s economy.

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Buyers on a Mission

Jennifer Lu and her colleagues at the department make it their mission to connect Wisconsin businesses with international buyers. Over the year, they have worked with buying delegations from more than 15 countries in Southeast Asia, South America and the Middle East.

“Buyers missions are cost-effective ways for exporters to build relationships with prequalified international buyers without traveling overseas,” says Lu, an economic development consultant. “It provides our businesses with an opportunity for face-to-face contact with foreign buyers. These events have proven highly successful for many local businesses and opened the door for long-term trade relationships.”

Lu and fellow economic development consultant Enrique Gandara recorded 173 international introductions to 24 Midwestern suppliers (12 from Wisconsin) at the 2016 Value-Added Feed Ingredients Buyers Mission in Madison. The three-day event assisted with $1.2 million in export sales.

But the impact reaches far beyond these dollars and those three days.

“A lot of these feed companies sell to dairies and feedlots in their countries,” Gandara says. “Any time they do this, they bring a wealth of referrals for livestock genetics and equipment and different products manufactured in the state. It’s like a domino effect. They take this wealth of knowledge back to their countries and directly or indirectly share information about available Wisconsin products.”

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