This September, Iowa State University welcomed six Cochran fellows from Indonesia. The Cochran Fellowship Program, which began in 1984, brings 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 “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.
Indonesia is the largest economy in Southeast Asia. It is also the largest regional market for US agricultural exports which include soybeans, wheat, cotton, dairy and maize. According to the Foreign Agricultural Service, “Indonesia has increasingly adopted trade restrictive measures in an attempt to fulfill food self-sufficiency goals…” which in some cases has led to commodity shortages and higher domestic food prices. The six fellows are all employees of Indonesia’s Bureau of Logistics (referred to as BULOG), the state-owned company that manages in-country food distribution and prices.
The 10-day intensive training began at ISU’s Seed Science Center with an orientation to US and Iowa agriculture by the training program director, Dr. Dirk Maier. Dr. Maier, who has previously directed two Cochran training programs at ISU, 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 here.
The group next heard from Jay O’Neil about the economics of US grain handling, transport, pricing and marketing. Mr. O’Neil is the President of O’Neil Consulting Services and has close to four decades of experience in the grain business.
The following day fellows saw combines harvesting corn and soybean as they drove to Sheffield, Iowa, to the international headquarters of Sukup Manufacturing. Eugene Sukup, the founder of Sukup Manufacturing and inventor of the first stirring augur for grain bins in 1963, greeted them at the door. Eugene’s son and the President of Sukup Manufacturing, Charles Sukup, then took the group on a tour of Sukup’s factory floor. Rahmatullah, a Senior Legal Analyst with BULOG, was “very impressed by their understanding of the engineering behind each machine – that is what customers are interested in.” BULOG is actively exploring moving from warehouse storage of bagged commodities to bulk storage. Seeing first-hand how steel bins are manufactured and relied on for storage of US grains on- and off-farm generated much interest and discussion among the fellows.
After lunch, fellows drove east to visit the Consolidated Grain and Barge (CGB) river terminal in Clayton, Iowa, where grain is transferred from trucks to barges. CGB is located next to the Mississippi River and operates one of the most unique grain storage facilities in the world. In the 1970s, deep and cavernous tunnels were dug out of the limestone cliffs along the mighty Mississippi in order to collect the silica sand deposited there. CBG has repurposed these tunnels to store up to 12 million bushels of corn and soybeans for their customers. Before the group traveled into the labyrinthine tunnels, the Manager, Russ Leuck, checked “does anyone have a problem with claustrophobia?” Inside the tunnels, the fellows received a demonstration of monitoring stored grain quality with a handheld CO2 sensor, a tool that Dr. Maier had introduced them to earlier in the training. They made it safely out and concluded their visit with a lively discussion of “the future of soybeans” in Indonesia with Mr. Leuck. Soybean meal is an important poultry feed ingredient in Indonesia and soybean oil is used for cooking.
The next day fellows traveled to Kansas City, Missouri to visit the USDA Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration’s Federal Grain Inspection Service National Grain Center to learn about US grain standards and the equipment used to quantify grain traits consistently throughout the US. The training concluded with hands-on grain grading exercises for corn, soybeans and rice. Fellows gained a greater understanding of grain origination and logistics by visiting DeLong Company and the ADM Grain office in Kansas, both of which buy and sell grain and grain products across the globe.
After two days in Missouri and Kansas, the group flew to Arkansas, the leading US state for rice production and export. Fellows were very eager for this portion of the trip because rice is Indonesia’s staple crop and the major focus of the fellows’ employer, BULOG. Their first visit was to the University of Arkansas’ Rice Research and Extension Center where they were hosted by Dr. Sammy Sadaka, an Assistant Professor and Extension Agricultural Engineer who was previously on the bioenergy research staff of Iowa State University. Dr. Brad Watkins, a Professor and Extension Economist, gave them an overview of US rice production and export. They further investigated the current state of rice quality research at the USDA-ARS Dale Bumpers National Rice Research Center, and finished the day at Riceland Foods, a cooperative of family farms in Stuttgart where they learned about local procurement, storage and shipment practices.
The following day the group had an opportunity to learn more about how rice quality is determined as they toured the FGIS regional office where rice is graded for farmers, millers and exporters. The fellows compared notes with the federal inspectors on how rice quality is assessed in the US compared to Indonesia. Afterwards, fellows enjoyed an impressive tour of the University of Arkansas’ recently dedicated state-of-the-art foundation seed facility. Two operations staff had participated this summer in a seed conditioning workshop at Iowa State University. Perry Nettles from Food Protection Services shared with the group about the importance of protecting stored grain from insect pests and reviewed the latest fumigation technologies. Dr. Griffiths Atungulu, Assistant Professor and Grain Processing Engineer at the University of Arkansas, discussed how to safely dry and store rice in preparation for the long ocean voyages from the US across the globe. Given the amount of grain stored by BULOG for strategic purposes under tropical conditions, the fellows concurred on the importance of implementing best stored grain management practices and applying phosphine fumigant to avoid build-up of resistant insect strains. Seymour Magabe, the National Warehouse Manager for BULOG, was particularly interested in the discussion of storage pests saying that “we currently lose about 5% of our rice crop to weevils.”
After returning to Iowa, the group visited the Iowa Corn Growers Association and the Iowa Soybean Association. They left impressed by the investments Iowa farmers make in on-farm research and market development. On the final day, they 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. 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 also provided hands-on training on mycotoxin analysis. Gandi Prarista, a research leader for BULOG, shared that “mycotoxins are another challenge in preserving stored grain quality in Indonesia’s tropical climate that we need to better understand”. Glen Rippke provided an overview on NIR grain analysis equipment and the services provided to farmers and the grain industry by the Iowa Grain Quality Lab. Dr. John Lawrence, Associate Dean for Extension and Outreach, joined the fellows in celebrating the completion of their 10-day intensive training with a ‘graduation’ dinner in Ames. He commented on the importance of agricultural exports to Iowa’s economy. In 2013, Iowa farmers exported more than $10.2 billion worth of agricultural products, ranking second in the US.