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Grains Council CEO Ryan LeGrand Brings Experience From Mexico
As the new president and CEO of the U.S. Grains Council, Ryan LeGrand will be taking his experience in building ag markets in Mexico and moving it to lead the entire organization, which is based in Washington, D.C.
LeGrand was a director in Mexico City for the council, an organization that develops export markets for barley, corn, sorghum, and related products – including dried distillers’ grains. The council has a presence in more than 50 countries. Successful Farming magazine caught up with LeGrand a day after his new role was announced.
SF: These are certainly volatile times in agriculture. Why take this job now?
RL: You know these are certainly interesting times with lots of challenges out there, but I really wanted to take on this role of the council because of the purpose I see in this work. I’ve enjoyed working to further the ag agenda here in Mexico and now it’s going to be on a global stage. I’m very excited to take on the challenges that are out there. There are many of them. There certainly are.
SF: What the core function of the U.S. Grains Council?
RL: It’s a nonprofit organization dedicated to the promotion of corn, barley, sorghum, and related co-products in foreign markets. When it gets down to it, we’re operating in over 50 countries, with a full-time presence in 13 countries. We’re working to open markets, to maintain markets, and to defend markets for the U.S. farmer around the world.
SF: Is the USMCA (the new NAFTA) going to get done?
RL: I believe so. Yes. And I hope so. It’s proven to have been a very successful agreement over the years, and it was slightly tweaked and slightly improved. We’re very hopeful that we can get this agreement passed and ratified by all three countries just as soon as possible. And I think it’ll get done.
SF: What is the council’s priority list as far as trade issues?
RL: In my opinion, you have to assume that passage (of USMCA) needs to happen first. I think that will set the stage for other trade agreements that we have out there pending. Other countries around the world are looking to us to make sure that we can get this very crucial agreement passed first and then from there we’ll move on to the other. So I think USMCA first, obviously Japan and China are in the mix. And then, we’ll have to dive in and get our hands wrapped around what’s going on in London.
SF: With your experience in Mexico, what are the sticking points?
RL: We’re ready to pass it down in Mexico. The Mexican government is certainly ready to pass it. They’d like to see the 232 tariffs go away. I think there’s a lot of support for that in the United States, as well. We’d like to get back to a completely free trading environment with no tariffs on either side. I’ve seen quotes in the paper recently from some in Congress that are really pushing for the removal of these 232 tariffs. If that could happen, I think we could get a fast-track to USMCA ratification.
SF: Are dropping the 232 tariffs and ratifying USMCA literally tied together?
RL: Not necessarily tied together. I think it would help tremendously if we do get that resolved. That would put a lot of things in motion very quickly. So I think that that debate is still open.
SF: What’s your take on what’s going on in China for U.S. farmers?
RL: It’s an extremely important market for the U.S. farmer. Our DDGs and our ethanol were flowing into that country in major quantities and now they’re not. We need to get that outlet back. We want to get it back. China needs our ethanol and our DDGs. This is crucial to the farmer. We desperately need soybeans to start going back into China, as well.
SF: What are the countries that could be brand-new markets?
RL: India is a big one. India is a very big one for us. We’d really like to get U.S. ethanol into that market because it’s been very averse to importing. They can’t quite produce enough for their needs. We’d like to complement that with U.S. ethanol, which would result in very large quantities.
SF: What current customers do you think could expand?
RL: The one that stands out to me, obviously, would be Mexico. Mexico is one of our most important, if not the most important, market that we have in the world. That really needs to be maintained and defended – there’s additional growth opportunity there. Vietnam is another one, if you want to look to to Southeast Asia. They are one that’s really booming and starting to take a lot of our products.
SF: What is the growth area for Mexico?
RL: Ethanol, certainly ethanol. The total gasoline supply is about 12.5 billion gallons here in Mexico. So to get E-10, you’re looking at over 1.2 billion gallons of ethanol potential. Now that is huge. If the U.S. were to take half of that and Mexico produces the other half, you’re looking at a huge win-win for both countries.
SF: What markets have potential in the longer term?
RL: We’re looking to Africa. We think there’s plenty of opportunity in Africa several years away. We’re actually doing a lot of the work when the council was formed – and that’s extension work. We’re doing a lot of extension work in East Africa to start to build demand there. That’s one that has very exciting potential market in the future.
SF: Are you looking forward to moving to Washington?
RL: We’re excited to move up there. The only problem is we are going from averaging 70˚F. to 75˚F. every day [in Mexico City] to some of the chilly winters up there and the Atlantic. I learned you better have a south-facing garage.
Hometown: Grew up on a farm in Sulphur, Oklahoma
College: Bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma State University in international business
Family: Wife Cecilia, with two children