Wichita — Key officials of the Grain Board of Iraq are attending Kansas State University's international grains program to learn about the U.S. wheat marketing system, heartening growers who hope to renew the once-lucrative trade between the two countries.
The Iraqis' attendance at the two-week grain purchasing course, which began Monday, marks the first time Iraqi wheat buyers have come to the United States since the Gulf War, said Dawn Forsythe, spokeswoman for U.S. Wheat Associates.
"It is tremendously important -- Iraq is a 3 million metric ton market," Forsythe said. "It is a market that has been closed to U.S. wheat, and coming back in is not a given. We have to fight for it. We have to provide education and training to make them comfortable with our market system and to make them comfortable with the reliability of U.S. wheat."
U.S. Wheat Associates has had two meetings -- one in Amman, Jordan, and the other in Cairo, Egypt -- with the Iraqis to try to get back into that market.
"We have been working two years trying to bring them here. It is not an easy thing to do and not an easy time for them to leave," Forsythe said.
Khalil Assi, director general of the Grain Board of Iraq, and four other high-profile members on the board are taking the course.
"We have the key decision-makers here and they are very excited to be here in order to learn more about the U.S. marketing system and U.S. wheat -- particularly hard red winter," said Dusti Fritz, assistant administrator for the Kansas Wheat Commission.
Kansas is the nation's biggest producer of hard red winter wheat.
According to the Kansas Wheat Commission, an Iraqi wheat industry official last attended a flour milling class at Kansas State University in 1991. Australia has been Iraq's biggest wheat supplier since the first Gulf War.
Although Iraq has bought U.S. wheat since 1963, sales peaked in 1982 when the U.S. gained a 42 percent market share of Iraq purchases, according to the Kansas Wheat Commission. Throughout most of the 1980s, the United States, Australia and Canada each had about a third market share.
While there were a few sales of U.S. wheat to Iraq in the 1990s, those completely stopped by 1999, according to U.S. Wheat Associates.
Since the 2003 invasion of Iraq, U.S. farmers have sold 463,600 metric tons of wheat to that country and have outstanding commitments for an additional 267,500 metric tons, according to U.S. Wheat Associates.