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Virtual IGC conference provides a platform to address the new challenges in grain sector

13 July 20206 min reading
Arnaud Petit Executive Director The International Grains Council (IGC)

“Having a digital conference and keeping an international audience was the real challenge but we are satisfied by the number of attendees, close to 400 attendees from 54 countries. We are also satisfied with the engagement of the trading sector. The IGC’s conference is also unique in providing a broad platform of discussions between the public and the private sectors. A good dialogue allows the global food system to be dynamic and address the new challenges.”

Due to the travel restrictions imposed by the coronavirus pandemic, the 2020 edition of IGC Grains Conference, one of the most established events in the grains and oilseeds sector, was held as an online virtual conference. The conference was hosted within the IGC Grain Conference Application, a user-friendly app appreciated by the attendees. The virtual conference comprises 13 sessions, 64 re-recorded video presentations, 39 PowerPoint presentations, 13 Q&A sessions on different themes including stimulating globalısation of the grains sector, policy initiatives to promote globalisation, climate change and integration in the grains value chain, trade finance and the latest grains, oilseeds and rice market developments. Nearly 400 delegates from more than 50 countries had registered for the event. The live Q&A sessions were filled with lively debate.

Answering to Miller Magazine’s questions on the IGC’s first digital conference, Arnaud Petit, Executive Director of the International Grains Council (IGC), said that having a virtual conference and keeping an international audience was the real challenge but they are satisfied by the number of attendees. “Despite the distance, we managed lively debates among 64 speakers worldwide. Having the entire value chain of the sector, from the supply industry to the trade finance is also a value-added of the conference…Up today, the number of views is over 4200, which demonstrates the quality of the speakers.”

All the videos, PowerPoint presentations and Q&A sessions will be accessible until December 2020. During these times of uncertainty following the COVID-19 pandemic, the virtual conference provided a platform to discuss the next steps to ensure the development of global grain trade.

Speaking at the Wheat Market Development Session, Abdolreza Abbassian, the Secretary of the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS), said that despite a drop in global wheat production, wheat markets should remain adequately supplied in 2020/21 because of less buoyant growth in overall demand. “Wheat trade is likely to increase in 2020/21 amid uncertainties stemming from economic/health implications of the COVID-19 pandemic remain. Wheat quotations are firmer than last year and could strengthen further in view of tighter supplies among major exporters and if the US dollar continues to weaken,” he noted.

Ryan LeGrand, President and CEO of the U.S. Grains Council (USGC), made one of the most interesting presentations at the conference. "The flow of grain and feed into our export channels has remained largely unhindered," said LeGrand. He listed the COVID-19 short-run impacts on the grain markets as supply-chain disruptions, higher retail prices and lower farm-gate prices and domestic farm and consumer supports. According to him, demand loss (lower economic growth means a slower movement of demand to middle-class diets) and shifts in consumer demand will be medium-run impacts of the pandemic. He also shared his expectations for the next decade. “In the short-run, slower economic growth and supply-chain disruptions will raise prices for consumers and lower prices for farmers. In the long run, economic growth will continue to outpace population growth. The productivity of staple commodities continues to grow, fueled by technology. Movement of households into the middle class will continue raising meat demand.”

Florent Beluche of J.S. Morgan, the U.S. investment bank, was cautious about future demand because of the increase in poverty. "There is definitely a shift in demand (away from meat and other high-cost foods) but we are also likely to see a drop in demand," said Beluche. “The type of flow we see from producers, consumers and trade houses has not really changed over the past few months. Several consumers have taken advantage of low prices to extend price cover on longer maturities. However many stayed on the sideline as markets collapsed”.

Here is IGC Executive Director Arnaud Petit’s answers to Miller Magazine’s questions regarding the virtual conference.

International conferences and events in many different industries, including the grain industry, were canceled or postponed. IGC did not cancel its annual conference. You moved the conference to the virtual platform. What was the motivation behind this decision? One of the objectives of the IGC is to provide the latest cereals, oilseeds, pulses and rice market information to further international trade and we, therefore, considered it was of utmost importance to go ahead with the 29th IGC Grains Conference at this uncertain time. The IGC’s Conference is also unique in providing a broad platform of discussions between the public and the private sectors. A good dialogue allows the global food system to be dynamic and address the new challenges.

Are you satisfied with participation and interest in the virtual conference? Having a digital conference and keeping an international audience was the real challenge but we are satisfied by the number of attendees, close to 400 attendees from 54 countries. We are also satisfied with the engagement of the trading sector. The close collaboration with the International Grain Trade Coalition was fruitful. Up today, the number of views is over 4200, which demonstrates the quality of the speakers. I use this opportunity to announce the registration is still open and videos, presentations and Q&A sessions will be available till December 2020.

What kind of feedback did you receive from the delegates about the virtual conference? Despite the distance, we managed lively debates among 64 speakers worldwide. The effort to get a session for each relevant cereals, oilseeds, rice and pulses market to discuss the recent market development and challenges for the next marketing year was definitively “a plus”. Having the entire value chain of the sector, from the supply industry to the trade finance is also a value-added of the conference.

In the other hand, an international conference allows to get contacts in a nice atmosphere and face to face meetings. That was not part of our project for this year. If we have to run another exclusive digital conference, the opportunity to get face to face meetings with the digital tool would be developed.

When the world goes back to normality after the pandemic, would you consider continuing virtual conferences? What advantages does the virtual conference have? London is an amazing hub for the grains, oilseeds and rice sector. All services, including trade finance, are located in here. This is why we have set up the “London Grains Week” together with GAFTA, IGTC and AHDB. We intend to develop a broad range of activities next year. But the very positive experience of the digital conference show there is also a place to provide as well this type of service.

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