Since 1984, the Cochran Fellowship Program has been bringing foreign agricultural professionals to the US for technical training, networking and a greater understanding of the US agricultural sector in general. The program, which is sponsored by the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service, is geared toward agricultural professionals from “middle income countries, emerging markets and emerging democracies.” The goal is to increase the food security of these countries, while also encouraging trade linkages with agricultural interests in the US.
This May, Iowa State University welcomed seven Cochran fellows from Ukraine. Their training centered on improving post-harvest grain logistics and decreasing trade barriers between the United States and Ukraine. The fellows’ professional backgrounds ranged from academic, corporate and government, but they all were eager to learn and discuss the topics being presented.
The director of the training program, Dr. Dirk Maier, is a professor and post-harvest engineer in the Department of Agricultural and Biosystems Engineering at Iowa State. Dr. Maier, who is also Associate Director of the Global Food Security Consortium at Iowa State, wrote the proposal that brought the fellows to ISU. “While Ukraine is a major grain production and exporting country, they are also an important customer of US technology including equipment and machinery,” shared Dr. Maier about the motivation to organize this training.
On their first day, fellows were given an overview of US grain handling, transportation and marketing by Arvid Hawk, President of Global Agriculture Consulting. Dr. Erin Bowers, manager of the mycotoxin lab with the Iowa Grain Quality Initiative, discussed mycotoxins and phytosanitary issues with grain as well as the tools and techniques available to quantify mycotoxins. She then presided over a lively discussion of genetically modified organisms which was brought up by the Fellows in terms of comparing the US versus European perspective. Fellows then visited the Iowa Grain Quality Lab where Glen Rippke provided an overview and hands-on training on NIR grain analysis equipment.
The following day Fellows traveled to Clayton, Iowa to visit a CGB river terminal where grain is transferred from trucks to barges for transport down the Mississippi River.
Fellows then had the opportunity to see the destination of much of the river-transported grain when they traveled to New Orleans, Louisiana. They visited Archer Daniels Midland and Cargill’s export facilities where US grains, oilseeds and processed products are shipped to major importers like Japan and Mexico. Fellows commented that while Ukraine has major export terminals on the Black Sea there is little utilization of transporting grain in river barges at this time.
After a free day to explore New Orleans the group flew to Kansas City, Missouri where they spent a day at the USDA Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration’s Federal Grain Inspection Service National Grain Center learning about US grain standards and the equipment used to quantify grain traits consistently throughout the US. Fellows had many questions trying to understand how FGIS maintains instrument calibration and licenses private companies to conduct official grain inspections under government contract. This was a novel concept to the Fellows as it is not used in the Ukraine. The Fellows were also impressed during a visit to DeLong Company’s nearby intermodal facility which was another novel logistics approach they were not familiar with in terms of shipping grains and processed products to overseas customers in containers.
After returning to Iowa, the Fellows continued their classroom training with sessions on traceability and food safety of grains taught by Dr. Charles Hurburgh, professor-in-charge of the Iowa Grain Quality Initiative, and improved grain facility receiving design taught by Bill Lyster, special projects manager of Ag Partners. On the last day, Fellows visited LongView Farm in Nevada to learn about the business of grain and seed farming. They were particularly impressed with the machinery available to plant and harvest large acreage in a timely manner. They further explored the grain logistics chain by visiting Landus (formerly West Central) Cooperative in Boone, Iowa where they observed farmers delivering some of their corn from the 2015 harvest after they had finished planting their 2016 crop. They discussed the challenge of storing and maintaining the quality of grain and oilseeds, and the logistics of eventually transporting these products thousands of miles across the US by rail. After a visit to the Iowa Corn Growers Association and the Iowa Soybean Association, the Fellows celebrated the completion of their 13-day intensive training with a ‘graduation’ dinner in Ames. Upon receiving their certificates of completion, they commented positively on the value of the training they received. They also expressed appreciation to their ISU hosts and the USDA for sponsoring them.