Q&A: Bryan Lohmar, China Director U.S. Grains Council
The interview below was published in the May issue of Successful Farming magazine.
With 20 years of experience working on agricultural and economic issues in China, Bryan Lohmar ranks as a seasoned expert. Lohmar grew up in the Minneapolis suburb of Wayzata and says taking foreign language classes while a math major in college sparked his interest in China and later his decision to study ag economics. “This was a discipline I could use to approach China. So China is what got me into agriculture, not the other way around,” Lohmar says. China, second only to the U.S. in growing corn, has a huge corn stockpile on its hands. In the short run, it’s expected to limit grain imports. During a presentation at USDA’s Outlook Forum, Lohmar said rising Chinese demand for meat and constraints on domestic production will mean continued growth in soybean imports and steady demand for corn once its surplus is reduced to manageable size.
SF: You’ve said that no one knows what’s going on in China. How do you sort out agricultural issues?
BL: You need to sit back and ask, “What do we know about what’s going on in the U.S.?” You have your own opinion, and you have certain sources of information. There’s a lot of official information in China. When you start to piece it together, it doesn’t always corroborate with other pieces of official information. So that causes confusion, and it takes time and energy to try to piece together what’s going on. It’s still just your opinion. In some ways, it’s not that different from here in the U.S.
SF: Who do you deal with in China?
BL: We deal with the private sector, we deal with trade associations, we deal with government, we deal with academic institutions. We also deal with the average person on the street.
SF: The Grains Council has been in China for 30 years. What is the near-term goal of the council over the next one to three years?
BL: China has become an important customer for DDGs and sorghum, and a growing customer for corn. So, we’re hoping to maintain exports to serve those customers. There are important customers in China. We hope to maintain that flow.
SF: USDA figures say there will be a drop-off in sorghum and DDGs in the near term. What will that mean for the Grains Council and U.S. customers in China?
BL: The council and the council’s delegates just had a meeting. They fully understand the situation China is in with large government-owned stocks, and they understand the pressure on imports, why the government and other stakeholders would want to reduce imports. So, I think everyone expects that to happen. Everyone knew these $150-a-tonne import margins were just not sustainable, and they were creating huge distortions.
We hope it will be managed in a way that won’t be too disruptive to the market. Some policy-makers have already reached out and tried to establish some transparency and tell counterparts at USDA or other stakeholders that China will be looking for ways to reduce imports, which will affect the market. They’re doing it because they know it’s important for the markets to understand this.
SF: You talked about not a slowdown but a slowing of growth for imports.
BL: There are just a number of unknowns, and it is very difficult to say. I think China will become a regular and reliable customer for U.S. feed grains in the future. I think that transition will be up and down. It was like that for soybeans. I think, in some ways, corn is even more controversial than soybeans. There will be a give-and-take for a while, but I do think down the road it will become an open and commercially regulated import flow. When that happens exactly is unclear – if it’s three years, if it’s five years, if it’s 10 years, if it’s 15 years. I doubt if it will be 15. I’m hoping it’s before I retire. It’s still important for us to be in China. U.S. agriculture has gained a lot
Name: Bryan Lohmar
Title: U.S. Grains Council China Country Director
Hometown: Wyzata, Minnesota
Work Background: USDA, Bunge China, and U.S. Grains Council-China