For the first time, Port of Grays Harbor Executive Director Gary Nelson and Commission Chairman Chuck Caldwell joined Ag Processing Inc. senior management and sales staff in a visit to the Philippines.
The island nation is the largest consumer of soy beans outside the United States, a primary product for AGP, and Filipino delegations have been visiting the Port for about a decade. The Port is the largest soy bean exporter on the West Coast.
“We’ve had invites to come over forever, but it’s a long trip and it’s an expensive one,” Nelson said. “It’s a big commitment. We were just trying to find the right time to do it. The biggest thing is to support AGP.”
Planning for the Dec. 1 through Dec. 7 trip began before Typhoon Haiyan struck Nov. 8.
“The tone kind of changed from a celebratory trip to kind of a support, look to the future kind of trip,” Nelson said.
The storm impacted about 12 million people, killing at least 5,924.
It doesn’t appear AGP’s major clients were significantly impacted in their soy bean business, although one, La Filipina, had a sugar mill destroyed.
AGP presented a $25,000 corporate donation to La Filipina’s charitable foundation, Uy Gonco.
“Their employees were not only put out of work but their homes were destroyed,” Nelson said.
Port staff contributed personal donations totaling $625.
“The areas we were in we didn’t see any major damage,” Caldwell said.
“I was absolutely shocked at the poverty level of the people,” he added. “There’s absolutely no in-between” wealth and poverty.
Caldwell said the trip was one of the busiest he’s taken with the Port, full of meetings with AGP’s clients and other American soy bean suppliers from North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota.
“We spent the day on a fish farm. I said, ‘Why the heck are we on a fish farm?’ It was because they feed the fish soy beans,” he said.
Soy beans and meal are common components in feed for fish, chicken and hogs, Nelson said.
“Essentially it’s protein. That’s what you see in emerging markets, when people get more money the first thing they want to do is improve their diet.”
Nelson and Caldwell paid for their own travel expenses and accommodations. The flight to the Philippines was about 26 hours.