Lucas Blaustein wasn’t raised on a farm, and he speaks Mandarin Chinese. As an export trader for containerized commodities at Consolidated Grain and Barge (CGB), he is responsible for maintaining relationships with the largest overseas customers of U.S. soy.
His commitment to understanding the language and culture of the biggest international destination for U.S. soy is just one example of a larger industry commitment to the idea of long-term partnerships.
In 2014, the value of agricultural exports to China alone reached $24.6 billion. Other Asian nations are also lining up to buy U.S. farm products. These countries value long-term partnerships with U.S. soybean farmers and suppliers because they want a superior product to help them grow their economies and expand their emerging middle classes.
Approach to Long-term Partnerships
Blaustein works primarily with soybeans and other feed grains, helping to connect U.S. farmers with overseas customers.
He wants those customers to know that the U.S. soy industry understands their long-term needs. He also has a suggestion for how to meet those needs.
“Integrative solutions,” he says. “The customer overseas has to find a high-quality product. They need to know they are purchasing a product that will not only be profitable, but will help them provide a high-quality finished good.”
Blaustein realizes that long-term partnerships must be mutually beneficial.
“We’ve got to have both the U.S. farmers and overseas clients winning. It’s in the best interests of both parties to commit to these long-term partnerships.”
In order to establish and maintain long-term partnerships between overseas customers and domestic producers and suppliers, Blaustein says it’s crucial that there be mutual understanding.
“Understanding the language and the culture in these places we’re dealing with, that’s so important,” he says. “We’re all people, and we want to work with other people who can understand us and work well with us. It’s about putting in the effort to be a responsible supplier, even visiting the customer on their terms to understand what their needs are.”
In effect, Blaustein acts on behalf of overseas buyers of U.S. soy. His knowledge of language and culture enables him to convey a customer’s expectations to U.S. producers and suppliers. This improves communication and trust among the buyer, shipper and seller, which further strengthens the long-term partnership.
U.S. Soybean Industry Commitment
Blaustein wants overseas customers to know that the U.S. soy family is committed to long-term partnerships at every point in the supply chain. He also believes that the U.S. soy family can play a role in helping to educate their overseas partners.
“If there’s anything I could suggest, it would be making sure the export markets better understand the benefits of U.S. soy,” says Blaustein. “There are challenges, given increased worldwide production elsewhere, and we’re seeing a shortened export season for U.S. products. We can also do a better job of identifying end users.”
One aspect of U.S. soy’s long-term commitment to overseas customers has been a continued focus on high-quality soybeans and superior soybean handling methods.
“We can offer preservation and quality control that other countries can’t offer. But, we can do more to brand U.S. soybeans for third parties,” he says. “We need to quantitatively and qualitatively explain the benefits of U.S. soy.”
Blaustein sees the U.S. Soybean Export Council (USSEC) playing a vital role.
“We’re looking for organizations exactly like USSEC. They can help us facilitate the client touchpoints and help us eliminate some of the information asymmetry in the marketplace.”
Customer Expectations of U.S. Soy
“Our customers want price and quality,” says Blaustein. “On the price, I know there’s a lot that’s out of the farmer’s control. But on quality, that’s where we can deliver. We have overseas customers who only purchase U.S. soy because of the quality. Its appearance, its consistency all the way through the delivery—as it goes through different stages, it’s not getting over-handled.”
He also noted that the oil and the protein content are also important to overseas customers.
“Oil and protein matter a lot to our customers. As newer technologies come along that allow for higher protein content, they should at least be taken into consideration as farmers make decisions about their operations.”
Decisions like these on the part of U.S. farmers and suppliers are further evidence of how the U.S. soy family demonstrates its commitment to long-term partnerships.
The opportunities for long-term partnerships will only increase for U.S. soybean farmers, as trade deals and developing export markets continue to expand access. In the meantime, organizations like USSEC and CGB are leading by example.