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Record Turnout In Dubai

More than 800 millers and exhibitors attend the annual IAOM Mideast & Africa Conference.

The IAOM Mideast and Africa annual conference and exposition, held Oct. 31-Nov. 3, returned to Dubai to begin its second quarter century as the region’s major platform for technical and business exchange in the milling industry. The commercially pulsating crossroads attracted a record number of over 800 registered millers and exhibitors from 60 countries for the three days of professional camaraderie and grain market and processing insights.

Organizers said 250 employees representing 130 milling companies were registered this year, marking notable progress in a key goal for the event and the 93 firms that occupied the sold out exposition space.

The forum’s content continued to reflect the rapid development of many countries into increasingly sophisticated consumer markets where there is growing demand for a greater range of packaged cereals-based foods as well as animal protein products.

Branding strategies, both personal and product oriented, were the topic of two of the management keynote speakers. They sought to provide answers to the question of how to differentiate and add value to wheat-flour based products that in much of the region are still perceived purely as a commodity.

Roy Loepp, IAOM president and Ali Habaj, regional director IAOM MEA, present an award of appreciation to Essa Al Ghurair for his quarter century of contribution to IAOM region. Emcee Rania Ali, a well-known Dubai television presenter, is seated.

Roy Loepp, IAOM president and Ali Habaj, regional director IAOM MEA, present an award of appreciation to Essa Al Ghurair for his quarter century of contribution to IAOM region. Emcee Rania Ali, a well-known Dubai television presenter, is seated.

Many Middle East and Africa wheat millers have been diversifying into animal feed production as growth in demand for eggs, broiler meat and other animal products accompanies dietary diversification resulting from increased incomes. After a successful side program on feed milling at the previous IAOM MEA in Cape Town, speakers addressing such questions as the most desirable particle sizes for maize in broiler feed were included in the main program.

Essa Al Ghurair, chairman of Al Ghurair Resources, the host of the event, opened the conference with a welcoming speech that laid out the program and innovations in the “mind sharing” and reminded the audience, “This industry touches rich and poor, young and old.” He suggested that millers continually ask themselves, “How can we be honest in what we do?” as suppliers of a key staple food.

MARKET OUTLOOKS

The highly anticipated presentations of crop and market conditions for the major wheat exporting regions were spread over two days. They painted a rosy picture of abundant wheat supply and low transportation costs for the short, medium and long term.

The results and projections for the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea were particularly significant for the grain-hungry countries of the Middle East. Hans Stoldt of Ameropa, a grain trader, boldly predicted wheat production and exports 10 years ahead to 2025-26 for the Black Sea region.

Based on a continuation of the steady yield and planting increases of recent years, he forecast that just five countries will ship 74.6 million tonnes of wheat primarily through the Bosphorus a decade from now, with Russia and Ukraine accounting for over 80%. That is a 65% increase over his estimate of 45.1 million tonnes in the 2015-16 marketing year. Since total exports of these countries, which also include Romania, Bulgaria and Serbia, have shot up from 1.4 million tonnes in 2000-01 to 39 million tonnes in 2014-15, this actually constitutes a significant slowing in the pace of growth.

The Baltic Sea region is also continuing its ascent as a major grain supply source, according to Indrek Aigro of Copenhagen Merchants, another grain trader.

Total wheat production in the eight countries has increased by over 60% since 1995 from 34 million tonnes to a repeat record of 55 million tonnes in 2015. Nearly all of this increase has become surplus available for export, given the slow rates of population growth in Germany, Poland, the three Scandinavian countries, and the three former Soviet Baltic states.

The latter will consume only 1.8 million tonnes of a record 6.8-milliontonne wheat harvest this year. The main challenge faced by shippers in the region is finding additional markets to absorb the 20 million tonnes on offer. Middle East and African countries, with annual wheat imports of nearly 70 million tonnes, are the main targets.

At the same time, as the former Soviet Bloc countries have developed into a major global supply source, a large part of U.S. wheat exports have shifted from the Middle East to other regions, according to Vincent Peterson, vice-president of overseas operations, U.S. Wheat Associates. From 1985-1990, the Middle East and North Africa took, on average, 30% of American wheat exports. Now the region accounts for just 3%. Latin America’s share has shot up from 10% to 40% of the average 25 million tonnes per year of U.S. export sales. This figure has changed little in the last 30 to 40 years.

Iranian millers, whose grinding capacity greatly exceeds domestic demand, are starting to target neighboring countries for flour exports. The chairman of GTC, Iran’s government wheat supply monopoly, stated in his presentation that exports of flour by Iranian millers to Afghanistan and Iraq could reach 1 million tonnes in the coming years, taking market share from millers in Pakistan, Kazakhstan and Turkey.

Iran’s strong contingent of milling companies is traditionally a bulwark of the IAOM MEA Conference. This year was no exception as over 30 mills were included in the 38 organizations providing 54 attendees from the country. The gradual lifting of economic sanctions means the millers have greater flexibility in equipment purchasing.

POSITIVE FEEDBACK

Exhibitors and attendees, both old and new, gave uniformly positive feedback on the conference. Copenhagen Grain Merchants’ Torben Christensen stated, “IAOM is a great conference and event where you meet existing as well as potential customers for the future.”

George Lasu, managing director of South Sudan’s only wheat mill, a 200-tonne-per-day plant being built in Juba by the Ramciel Multi-Purpose Cooperative Society, expressed his satisfaction, saying: “It was the first time for us to participate in the conference. It was very fruitful because we acquired a lot of knowledge and interacted with a lot of very experienced people in every field of milling. So we are very happy to be part of this association.”

Amer Ziyada, managing director of Millrite, Dubai, who has attended every year but one since the beginning, noted that the number of exhibitors this year was the largest he had seen.

But he added, “There should be more steps taken to increase the number of millers versus suppliers.” He suggested reducing the cost of the day pass to make the exhibition more accessible to mill staff. “When we started there were just 40 of us: 30 millers and 10 suppliers,” he said.

Another longtime participant, Nicolas Tsikhlakis, managing director of The Modern Flour Mills and Macaroni Co., Jordan, and member of the IAOM MEA Region Leadership Council, pointed out, “We had good representation of millers this year. It was a pretty balanced show with traders as well. Networking was very good.”

Seaboard Corporation senior trader Evert Ackorn called the IAOM conference “a fantastic forum for the industry to meet to discuss synergies, opportunities, and the challenges we face in an ever-changing operating environment.” He noted that his company “remains a strong advocate of these associations that provide a positive influence to millers.”

Anna Zenchuk, technical marketing manager of BioAnalyt, Germany, observed: “As a small, new company with an innovative product that simplifies measurement of Vitamin A and iron in flour, we valued the chance to speak for the first time at such a major gathering of millers.”

Another first-time participant, Steven Braco of RJ O’Brien, an independent Chicago, Illinois, U.S.-based futures commission merchant, said: “This event allowed me to interact informally with long-time clients and to better understand the risk management needs of major millers and the traders supplying them.”

REGIONAL FORUMS

To better meet the technical needs of milling professionals across the vast, culturally and economically diverse region, the IAOM MEA district this year began a series of regional milling forums. The first was staged in Nairobi in August, where 75 millers from 43 companies, including a large contingent from Ethiopia, were present for a workshop focused in part on aflatoxins in maize milling.

Ali Habaj, Oman Flour Mills CEO and IAOM MEA regional director, announced that, based on Nairobi’s resounding success, a second regional forum is planned for Algeria in 2016 where a few hundred small and medium millers comprise the bulk of the sector. It is to be IAOM’s first activity in the major wheat importing country.

IAOM MEA 2016 TO BE IN ETHIOPIA

The Dubai event concluded with the announcement of the selection for the first time of Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, sub-Saharan Africa’s de-facto political capital, as the site of the IAOM MEA Conference scheduled for October 2016. Ali Habaj observed that in a recent visit he was, “very impressed by the infrastructure and it is a fantastic market.”

Madame Abeba Tesfaye, vice-president of the Ethiopia Millers’ Association, accepted the nomination. Ethiopia’s population of 90 million is second in size after Nigeria in Africa. The country grows and consumes more cereals than all others below the Sahara. It ranks first in wheat production among them with around 3 million tonnes annually in addition to close to another million tonnes of yearly imports. There are between 200 and 300 milling companies in Ethiopia.

Many of the larger millers have been diversifying into pasta production. The annual crop of over 20 million tonnes of cereals, legumes and oilseeds still requires much in the way of improved storage and processing. Agricultural exports have boomed in recent years, underlying a high rate of annual GDP growth.

Original PDF article as appeared in the World Grain magazine.

Millers gather in Middle East

One of the world’s premier wheat milling industry events, the 2012 IAOM Mideast and Africa Conference and Expo, was held Dec. 5-8 in the cavernous, ultra-modern Abu Dhabi National Exhibition Center. The 23rd version of the highly anticipated trade show was a resounding success in the newly opened facility, with booth space and registration slots selling out well in advance.

Over the three days more than 600 participants from companies and organizations based in 45 countries visited the 100 exhibitors from 20 countries and sat through management and educational sessions featuring nearly 50 speakers on topics ranging from innovations in milling to the global economy and leadership skills.

Old friendships were renewed and new relationships initiated at the conference’s dinners, lunches and coffee breaks, generously sponsored by leading players in the international wheat industry.

On behalf of the joint hosts, H.H. Sheikh Mansoor bin Zayed Al Nahyan, chairman of the Abu Dhabi Food Control Authority, gave the welcoming address and Agthia Group’s CEO, Ilias Assimakopoulous, closed the proceedings.

Exhibition

Exhibitors covered all sectors from grain traders to manufacturers of packaging machinery but included a large core group of mill manufacturers. The strong presence of a dozen steel silo companies reflected the trend of several years running for private grain millers and government organizations in the world’s number one wheat importing region to enlarge their storage capacity in response to the increasing precariousness of supply and price volatility.

Similarly, rising dependence on wheat of variable quality from the Black Sea countries and more recently India and Pakistan has led to greater demand for flour additives which were offered by another 12 firms exhibiting this year. Many of these same companies also offer vitamin and mineral premixes since most Middle Eastern countries have embraced mandatory flour fortification as a public health measure.

Companies and organizations from six continents displayed products and services. As in the past, Turkish suppliers accounted for one quarter of all booth space. Twenty European firms, half of them German, were the second largest contingent. A new trend is the larger number of exhibitors from companies in the region besides Turkey. This year there were 11 including six from the United Arab Emirates, the host country.

Trading Session

The speakers at the trading session on the final day enjoyed an especially large audience as millers sought to understand the circumstances surrounding the sudden spike in wheat prices again this year and the relentless market volatility of the past five years.

Six speakers focused on six major grain exporting countries and regions, all of which supply wheat to the Middle East and Africa with Bill Tierney, chief economist of AgResources, as moderator. In his own presentation on the global market outlook, Tierney focused on the “historic decline in wheat production and historic decline in stocks.” He emphasized that “essentially there is no stocks cushion to stop prices from moving sharply higher.”

Countries are depleting their stocks through exports, said Tierney, citing USDA’s forecast that India will export 6 million tonnes of wheat this year. “If E.U. wheat exports do not slow down, the E.U. will have to import more corn to replace wheat for feed.”

Swithun Still, director and senior trader of Solaris Commodities, Switzerland, covered the Black Sea countries, which in the last decade have emerged as a vital supplier of wheat to Middle East and African countries, after being a net grain importer during most of the 1980s and much of the 1990s.

Bill Tierney of AgResources moderating the Trading Session at the IAOM Mideast and Africa Conference. Photo courtesy of David McKee.

Bill Tierney of AgResources moderating the Trading Session at the IAOM Mideast and Africa Conference. Photo courtesy of David McKee.

“Egypt is almost a captive market for Russia,” Still noted. “It is almost a symbiotic relationship. Russia needs Egypt’s market, and Egypt needs Russian wheat.”

After exporting 26 million tonnes in 2011-12, Russia exported only 9 million tonnes through the first 11 months of 2012, with a maximum of 2 million tonnes expected in the final month. “Russia’s domestic price is now more attractive than the export price,” Still said, adding that ice and cold weather hinder logistics in the Black Sea, so that exports could slow even further.

Neither Russia nor Ukraine will outright ban exports as happened in 2010, but Ukraine could take “unofficial measures” to slow the outflow, he predicted.

Joe Woodward, past president, IAOM presents a plaque of appreciation to Ilias Assimakopoulos, CEO,Agthia Group, the host company at the Gala dinner.

Joe Woodward, past president, IAOM presents a plaque of appreciation to Ilias Assimakopoulos, CEO,
Agthia Group, the host company at the Gala dinner.

Despite harvest shortfalls in two of the last three years, “it is expected and hoped that RKU (Russian, Kazakhstan and Ukraine) will be the world’s number one grain exporter during 2020-40,” Still said.

Nick Poutney, GrainCorp regional manager, presented the crop picture in his country. “Australia has done a lot of work in terms of making its export program more efficient in the last few years,” he said, noting that in 2011-12 wheat exports were a record 27 million tonnes out of a record 29 million-tonne crop. For 2012-13, his company’s crop estimate was for a more normal 20.3 million tonnes but with a higher share of milling quality.

Port grain terminal operators “will be allowed to sell up to 60% of port capacity up to three years in advance. Up to now it was only one year,” Poutney said. This will encourage investments in rail infrastructure, helping to relieve transportation bottlenecks, he said.

Returning to the theme of crop shortages, Jean-Benoit Gauthier of the Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) said that precipitation in Canada for the new crop is only 40% to 50% of normal, and Ontario is the only production area in the country that did not encounter major weather problems.

Though it has lost its monopoly on exports of wheat from the Canadian prairie provinces, CWB still operates 130 wheat purchasing stations and remains a key partner for many wheat growers, Gauthier told the audience.

Nebraska grain grower Dan Hughes, vice-chairman of U.S. Wheat Associates, touched upon the critical shortage of ground moisture, particularly due to lack of snow in much of the central Midwest and especially in his home state. However, he emphasized that “the U.S. wheat store is always open,” and he repeated the familiar U.S. Wheat refrain of “contract sanctity, market competition, transparent pricing and assured quality,” as reasons to buy American wheat.

Hughes encouraged the millers of the region to use higher priced but better quality wheat from the U.S. to blend with low-cost wheat from other origins to obtain the best possible price-to-quality mix, an argument developed in depth by Peter Lloyd, regional technical director of U.S. Wheat, during the educational session. Mark Samson, regional vice-president of U.S. Wheat, showed his country’s share of Middle East and Africa wheat imports at around 5% of a total of 37 million tonnes.

Moving on to Europe, there has been an increase of exports outside of the E.U. at the expense of intra-E.U. trade, noted Francois Gatel, director of France Export Cereales.

“Wheat is by far the largest crop in France with about 10 percent of all area, or roughly 5 million hectares,” he explained. French wheat yield was 7.4 tonnes per hectare in 2012 thanks to “high spring temperatures, a long growth period and an oceanic climate with a high spring temperature but not too hot summer.”

France ranks number five as a world wheat exporter with 11 million tonnes, half of which went to Algeria and Morocco in the most recent year.

Glencore trader Joost Viehoff introduced the South American crop situation which was very unclear at conference time. Every year a certain share of Argentina’s and Brazil’s wheat exports is delivered to ports in southern and east Africa and the Middle East. Brazil, at 7 million tonnes per year, is one of the world’s top wheat importers, but it nevertheless exported 500,000 tonnes to Iran in 2012.

Viehoff explained that exports are possible due to the different quality needed by mills at different times, adding that much of Brazil’s production is feed wheat quality.

The first day, Indrek Aigro of Copenhagen Merchants, Denmark, discussed how the Baltic region, including the former Soviet states of Estonia, Latvia and Ltihuania as well as Poland and northern Germany, had become a major wheat surplus zone.

IAOM MEA’s growing emphasis on management issues came out in the initial topics of the day. Hedging solutions were presented by Dr. Abedlatif Abada of Morgan Stanley, UAE. On this theme, Tierney suggested that millers cover some of their purchase risk with options contracts whose prices are unexplainably very low in relation to the current market volatility.

Former GAFTA President Wayne Bacon gave a talk entitled “The Hidden Contract,” focusing on the GAFTA 27 rules which form a part of every grain contract. They are “very seller biased, so buyers really have to understand what their risks are.”

The BBC’s Spencer Kelly offered an entertaining keynote speech that capped off the first day’s management session with highlights from his popular television show, “Click,” about technological innovations that are changing the lives of even the world’s poorest people. Session moderator Martin Schlauri, managing director of Bühler’s Grain Milling Business Unit, thanked him and commented, “The milling industry is high tech, too. Go to our booth.”

Participants were pleased by the continuously refined formula of the conference.

“I have attended since the second one in Yemen, where there were 200 people,” said Mustafa Mustafa, group head of milling for Dangote Flour Mills, Nigeria. “It has been very good for my professional development as it has kept me up to date year by year about innovations. I appreciate the addition of managerial issues to the program.”

In his closing remarks, Assimakopoulous of Agthia Group congratulated IAOM for the “diverse and valuable insights from some of the industry’s most esteemed and influential professionals.” He then handed over the IAOM MEA banner to the Kamel Belkhiria, president of La Rose Blanche Group, Tunisia, where the 24th annual conference will take place Nov. 5-8, 2013 in the Mediterranean city of Sousse.

Photo Galleria from the event