(Posted Fri. Oct 13th, 2017)
Consuming more than 5 billion bushels annually, the animal feed industry is the #1 customer of U.S. corn. Within animal feed, poultry and egg farms use the most corn, followed by beef and pork. The largest growth opportunity for U.S. poultry and egg products exists in foreign markets, where consumer demand for safe, reliable protein continues to outpace supply. Last year, NCGA became a member of the USA Poultry & Egg Export Council (USAPEEC), supporting USAPEEC’s efforts to increase export demand. Since 1990, USAPEEC has been led by their President, Jim Sumner. Recently, NCGA caught up with Jim to learn a little bit more about him, USAPEEC’s structure, the importance of MAP & FMD funding, and the high value they place on allied commodity partnerships. Here’s what he told us:
NCGA: What is USAPEEC’s number one strategic priority?
Jim: Maintaining and developing new export markets for our chicken, turkey and egg industries is our top priority. An important key to our ability to compete globally is our industry’s access to high quality, reliable, and cost-competitive feed produced by U.S. corn farmers.
Another advantage exists around the balance of product preferences between foreign and domestic consumers. In many foreign markets, dark meat products such as legs and leg portions are preferred. However, the opposite is true in the U.S., where breast meat is preferred by consumers. In fact, domestic demand for breast meat from U.S. chickens and turkeys is large enough that it helps support very competitive prices when exporting U.S. dark meats.
NCGA: NCGA and many other commodity associations are members of USAPEEC. Why are these relationships important to USAPEEC?
Jim: Having corn and soybean producers on our board working closely together fosters a better understanding of the poultry industry and how USAPEEC operates. In many cases, the concentration of poultry and egg operations do not coincide with the largest corn producing states. However, poultry is the largest animal feed consumer of corn at 33 percent and of soy at 55 percent.
When state and national corn associations partner with USAPEEC, they bring new ideas and energy that ultimately becomes part of our yearly marketing plans. Many current projects across multiple countries exist thanks to the support of our existing corn partners. Partners help identify, develop and execute specific projects they feel will make a difference.
NCGA: The word “partner” means different things to different people. What does it mean to you?
Jim: By being our “partner,” we realize that the success of both our industries are dependent upon each other. We encourage our partners to be active participants in our projects and want them to succeed as much as we want to succeed ourselves. It’s a true partnership!
NCGA: How is USAPEEC’s organizational structure configured?
Jim: USAPEEC operates with a board of directors that has 30 members chosen to represent chicken, turkey, egg and trading companies in a proportionate manner. In addition, we have 18 commodity board members from the corn and soybean industries. We even have a commodity member representative that serves on our executive committee – Gary Berg, a corn and soybean producer from southern Illinois. The executive committee meets monthly and provides me with the policy direction I need to administer to USAPEEC’s 15 U.S. based and 25 international staff who carry out those policies and goals.
NCGA: Over the next 10 years, what markets represent the greatest opportunity for growth in U.S. Poultry & Egg exports?
Jim: Our future will likely be contingent upon gaining greater access to developing countries in Africa and Asia. This includes China and hopefully even India at some point. We seek access to developed markets as well—just a couple of months ago, we opened New Zealand for turkey products. We’d like to place more emphasis on high value and value-added products, however, our success up to now has been the result of our ability to provide low-cost protein to developing economies throughout the world, which also makes a huge difference in people’s lives and diets.
NCGA: What characteristics of U.S. produced poultry and eggs are most valuable to foreign markets/foreign buyers?
Jim: Product quality and food safety. Quality relates directly to the feed our birds receive; no other country can compare with our feed quality. Some countries rely on other feeds including fish meal and other products that can negatively affect the flavor of the meat or the eggs. Plus, the U.S. is renowned for our government’s food safety oversight, which is in a class by itself. USDA’s Animal Plant Health Inspection Service ensures all U.S. chickens and turkeys are tested for avian diseases prior to slaughter and the Food Safety and Inspection Service has 3,200 inspectors across U.S. poultry facilities. This ensures that no infected birds or foodborne pathogens enter the food supply, allowing us to produce the safest and most wholesome products in the world.
NCGA: NCGA continues to support increased funding for the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) programs. How are these funds used within your organization? How critical are they to growing foreign demand?
Jim: MAP & FMD funds are the basis for all of USAPEEC’s activities around the world, including our 14 international operations. Neither the broiler nor the chicken industry have checkoff programs, although we do receive funds from the egg industry checkoff program. Because of this, we are much more dependent on funding from MAP, FMD and our industry and commodity groups, including corn and soybean, than some other organizations. Of USAPEEC’s projected 2017 total budget of $13.6 million, 39 percent comes from MAP, 27 percent from industry, 26 percent from our commodity group members and 8 percent from FMD.
NCGA: All organizations have areas of concern. What issue(s) keep you up at night?
Jim: Our concerns are synonymous with our industry’s concerns. Through the years, disruptions in our export efforts have been primarily driven by unexpected actions of foreign governments. When our government takes another country to task for issues even unrelated to agriculture, those countries often retaliate against the U.S. poultry industry. Examples include implementing unjustified bans due to diseases such as avian influenza or by bringing dumping allegations against our industry.
NCGA: Describe your personal management style. How do you think it impacts your organization’s culture and/or reputation?
Jim: I’ve always believed that you can achieve far more success through cooperation and positive support than you can by making threats and criticizing your competitors. We have tried to maintain close and positive relationships with all poultry industries of the world, including China, Mexico, and even our fiercest competitor, Brazil. USAPEEC was a founding member of the International Poultry Council, which is a global organization that represents 90 percent of the world’s poultry production through its member countries. We have found that we can be much more successful working together than by being at odds. Our motto has been: working together works!
NCGA: In your role, you have given many interviews. Name one fact about yourself you’ve not previously shared.
Jim: My education is in journalism. Were it not for the fact that a daily newspaper in Pennsylvania made me its farm editor because I was raised in southern Illinois and they thought I grew up as a farmer, I doubt I would have ever ended up in agriculture. But I’m so thankful I did. It’s led to a career in which I became director of marketing for the Pennsylvania Department of Agriculture, worked for the dairy industry in the Middle Atlantic and the Midwest for 12 years, and then for the last 28 years with USAPEEC. It’s been an amazing career and I’ve cherished nearly every moment…especially the great people I’ve gotten to work with.
NCGA: What’s your favorite row crop (careful…)?
Jim: Having grown up in southern Illinois, with roots in Missouri, I’ve always been around cornfields. I can remember when I was very young, playing cowboys and Indians in corn fields with BB guns. Fortunately, if it’s a good corn crop, the stalks will soften the blow enough that getting hit doesn’t hurt too bad. Of course you couldn’t do that in a bean field!
NCGA: Describe an event that has helped shape your career. How has it affected where you are today?
Jim: What has really shaped my career is that I have served at the pleasure of multiple executive committees and board chairmen. These chairmen have come from various types of organizations, from poultry and egg companies and trading companies. I have learned something from each of them that has taught me and helped me do my job better. Having that many different bosses has been a unique experience.
NCGA: If we are sitting here a year from now celebrating the completion of a great year for USAPEEC, what will success look like?
Jim: In 2015, avian influenza cost our poultry industry $4.2 billion. So, success for me would be a year in which we avoided any additional avian influenza detections. Or, if we did experience an AI outbreak, success would be having the governments of our trading partners responding responsibly with reasonable import restrictions that are within the guidelines established by the World Organization for Animal Health (OIE). In this day and age of avian influenza in all the major migratory flyways, that would be success for me.
NCGA: Last question. If there was one thing the corn industry could do to better support the poultry and egg industries, what would that be?
Jim: First, I would like to say we most appreciate that NCGA joined our Board of Directors last year and has since begun supporting a couple of key projects. One area where we could use more support is balanced funding from corn as compared to other commodity groups that supports USAPEEC’s related activities and our industries’ mutual success. We’ve appreciated this opportunity extended by the National Corn Growers Association to explain our organization to your members and we look forward to continuing our partnership.
To learn more about USAPEEC, you can visit their website at http://www.usapeec.org.