My usual dinner date is Randy. Come to think of it, he's also my breakfast and supper date.
Our dinner is usually at noon. That drives my kids nuts. Once they went off to the big city of Manhattan, they somehow became sophisticated and think that "dinner" is "lunch."
But last Thursday night, Randy & I visited the big city of Manhattan (aka the Little Apple), and we had "dinner" with some new friends.
Randy serves on the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers board. KAWG and the Kansas Wheat Commission board were invited to Manhattan to meet a trade team from Nigeria. The Nigerian mill executives started their U.S. trip in Washington, D.C., where they met with trade officials and emphasized the importance of trade in generating jobs and income here in the U.S.
The Nigerians who traveled to the U.S. are the ultimate decision makers with regards to Nigerian wheat imports. They are crucial to United States Wheat Associates maintaining a majority market share in Nigeria.
My dinner companions were Folarinmi Babatunde "Tunde" Odunayo, vice-chair/CEO of Honeywell Flour Mills, (above left) and Solomon Ubaka Obichukwa, representing the Flour Mills of Nigeria.
Maybe they wished they had ended up at the table with Kansas Secretary of Agriculture Josh Svaty.
But I think they were OK with sitting at a table with a Kansas farm wife. The Nigerians and the Kansas Wheat guys had all traded their business cards like little boys swapping baseball cards. So I decided I'd join in the fun.
I handed over my card, which features a photo I took during the 2007 ice storm. Randy & I told them we were without electricity for 12 days during that storm.
These guys live in a sub-Saharan desert area, so the concept of ice like we had in 2007 is a foreign one to them.
But in many ways, they were much the same as we are. I visited with them about their families. Solomon has seven children. Tunde has four. They say Nigeria is a very social country. Solomon says that people don't talk about being lonely in Nigeria. They visit their neighbors or their families or their friends.
Both visited easily in English. When Solomon saw the very German "Fritzemeier" name, he wanted to know if we spoke German. He was disappointed to learn that the last Stafford County Fritzemeier who spoke German was several generations back - Randy's great-grandfather. Solomon speaks fluent German after studying milling science in that country.
His children all studied abroad as well. But there is never any question about them returning to Nigeria and using their education to make their homeland better.
Why should it be important to me to have a dozen or so Nigerians visit the U.S., and specifically, Kansas? Why should I care?
It's vitally important to U.S. farmers, especially those of us smack-dab in the middle of wheat country. Nigeria buys more U.S. hard red winter wheat every year than any other country. As much as 90 percent of the wheat milled in Nigeria is imported from the U.S. Since 2001, when U.S. Wheat Associates opened a technical service office in Lagos, Nigeria, average annual wheat sales to Nigeria have doubled from about 1.5 million metric tons (55 million bushels) to almost 3 million metric tons (110 million bushels), returning billions of dollars back to the U.S. economy.
According to U.S Wheat Associates, the story of success in the Nigerian flour milling industry is one example of how the public-private investment of export promotion helps stimulate economic development here in the U.S. A new economic analysis recently released by USW indicates that U.S. wheat producers received $23 back in increased net revenue for every $1 they invested to promote their products overseas between 2000 and 2007. The study estimated that the overall average gross revenue benefit to the entire wheat industry from the combined producer and federal investment was about $115 for each dollar spent.
Nigeria's climate doesn't allow them to raise wheat. But these Nigerian milling leaders are continuing to increase their imports of U.S. wheat as they introduce new products to their own country, including pasta, instant noodles, cookies and breads.
K-State is telling us that we need to get $5 a bushel for our wheat crop to break even. Right now, the price is hovering around $4 a bushel. Wheat prices are 23 percent lower than they were a year ago. That's discouraging.
Wheat is kind of like a baby. It takes 9 months to grow it, so you hope and pray for a good outcome.
So, yes, I care about the Nigeria milling industry. And I hope that a visit with a Kansas farm wife left a good impression, even if I wasn't one of the bigwigs they met on their journey from Washington, D.C. to Kansas to Texas and then back to Nigeria.