2020 I-LEAD Mission Trip Reiterates Importance of Steady Trade Partners

guest blog post by Emily Peters, Sales Manager of Agricultural Products for Union Pacific Railroad

Group PhotoIf you watch the news or read the headlines in the paper about all the trade disruptions, you would wonder if there’s a place in this world where U.S. agriculturists are welcome. The truth is every day many people share the story of American agriculture.

Earlier this spring I had the opportunity to attend a trade mission with the Iowa Corn Growers’ Iowa Leadership Enhancement and Development (I-LEAD) program. About a year and a half ago, my I-LEAD classmates and I debated where to go for our trade mission. Our final two options were (1) China; and (2) Peru, Colombia, and Panama.

Option 2 won by a slim margin because we thought it was important to meet with steady trade partners, even if they weren’t as large.” Our I-LEAD class departed Des Moines on March 2, 2020, with the mission of learning about, strengthening and growing important trade partnerships for U.S. agriculture.

Class at CanalThroughout the trip, we visited with local representatives of the U.S. Grains Council (USGC), USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) and the U.S. Embassy in both Peru and Colombia. Maintaining these relationships was a key theme.

One representative from the USGC said it best, “Latin America is a constant and consistent consumer as long as you don’t ignore her.”

I was impressed by the great talent working in our foreign Ag sectors. They are doing important work. For example, they work with local politicians to structure and implement price-band systems that make U.S. corn more price competitive with grain from other countries. A tour of the National Institute of Agriculture queued us into the growing interest among Peru’s science community to understand how GMOs could help their populations. While Peru does not allow local growth of GMO crops, importing GMO corn is critical to feeding its growing poultry market.

We met with large customers of U.S. corn. Not only did they express appreciation for our corn, but they also showed us how much U.S. corn supports their businesses. We toured the production facility of Huevos Kikes, the largest egg production company in Colombia. It produces five million eggs daily, and egg production is expected to grow to six million eggs daily by the end of 2020!

Eighty percent of the corn used by Huevos Kikes for feed rations comes from the United States. We reassured company representatives that we have plenty of corn available to meet their growth expectations. We also visited an Ingredion corn processing facility, which produces germ, gluten/feed, syrup, gluten meal, modified starch, and slurry-suspended starch. This facility imports 385,000 tons of #2 yellow corn annually, and 100% of that comes from the United States!

Field MeetingThe farms we toured were amazing! They were vast in size. They also were diverse and faced unique challenges to what we see in the Midwest. One farm we visited raises 30 different fruits, accounting for more than 1 billion pieces of fruit annually. This same farm also grows avocados and feeds seven million chickens.

Geography determines where citrus can be planted. We toured a 4,000-acre piece of ground in a narrow mountain valley that is devoted to mandarins and avocados. The area south of Peru is extremely dry, requiring costly irrigation for all production ground. It costs $80,000 to drill a well 100 meters deep.

BlueberriesAnother farm we visited raises asparagus, papaya, and blueberries. I found blueberry production extremely interesting. This farm was in the middle of a desert. All its blueberries are grown in bags of soil, so they can be immediately certified organic. Nearly all the blueberries raised here are exported, as local Peruvian consumers are not yet accustomed to the taste.

Just as Midwestern bankers are reserved about lending to specialty crop farms, Peruvian bankers are not yet comfortable providing loans for blueberry farms despite the crop’s enormous margins. Lenders in Peru are more familiar and, therefore, more willing to lend for asparagus and papaya production.

Class at CanalOur last stop before heading home to America the Panama Canal. I’m so glad we made the stop because its immensity is something you can’t grasp from pictures. The Canal spans 50 miles with three lock-steps on each side, and Lake Gatun is in the center. The ships passing through the locks were HUGE.

Two-thirds of all vessels going through the Panama Canal are either going to or coming from the United States. One hundred percent of U.S. corn going to Peru and 50% of U.S. corn going to Colombia travels through the Panama Canal. Without this canal, ships would have to travel an additional 8,000 miles around Cape Horn.

Our trip reiterated the importance of maintaining relationships with steady trade partners. During this uncertain time with China, our largest trading partner, it was refreshing to meet with trade partners like Peru and Columbia who WANT to buy U.S. products.

In addition, my eyes were opened to how important it is to understand what is valuable to various sectors within the agricultural industry. For example, some critics of our trade agreements will argue the volume of corn exported from the United States to their countries far outpaces the volume of crops they export to us, therefore, creating an unfair trade imbalance. However, their specialty crops are more valuable per unit. Although we don’t produce citrus, avocados, or commercial flowers here in the Midwest, those producers are important allies in defending trade agreements that make U.S. producers preferred suppliers.

Finally, this incredible opportunity reminded me of how blessed we are. A HUGE thanks to Iowa Corn, and all the generous sponsors like Latham Hi-Tech Seeds, for granting the trip of a lifetime to 25 of us aspiring Ag leaders.

Today I’m sharing with you a recipe for empanadas from Food & Wine as this is a delicious meal that is often served in Peru.

Group Photo

Mini Panamanian Beef Empanadas



  • 2 large eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 teaspoon white vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 stick unsalted butter, cut into small pieces and chilled
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine
  • 1 tablespoon sugar


  • 1/4 pound ground beef
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup chicken stock or low-sodium broth
  • 1/4 cup chopped, seeded tomato
  • 1/2 teaspoon achiote seeds (also called annatto seeds)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • Vegetable oil for frying
  • 1/2 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/4 cup finely diced red bell pepper


  1. In a food processor, pulse the flour with the sugar and salt. Add the butter and pulse until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Beat the eggs with the wine and vinegar and drizzle over the flour mixture. Pulse until the dough just comes together. On a lightly floured work surface, gently knead the dough until smooth. Wrap the dough in plastic and refrigerate until firm, about 1 hour.
  2. In a medium skillet, heat the oil. Add the achiote seeds and cook over moderately high heat until the seeds darken and the oil is orange, about 1 minute. Discard the seeds. Add the ground beef to the skillet and cook, breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until no pink remains, about 3 minutes. Add the garlic, onion and bell pepper and cook over moderate heat until the onion is softened, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato, tomato paste and chicken stock and simmer over moderate heat until the liquid has nearly evaporated, about 3 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and season with salt and pepper. Let cool.
  3. On a generously floured work surface, roll out the dough 1/8 inch thick. With a 3-inch round biscuit cutter, stamp out as many rounds as possible (you should have about 24). Reroll the dough scraps and stamp out additional rounds if possible. Brush the excess flour off the rounds. Working with 1 round at a time and keeping the rest covered with plastic wrap, form the empanadas: Spoon 2 teaspoons of the filling on one side of the dough round. Fold the dough over to enclose the filling and crimp the edges with a fork to seal. Cover with plastic wrap while you form the remaining empanadas.
  4. Preheat the oven to 350°. In a deep skillet, heat 1/2 inch of oil to 350°. Fry 4 empanadas at a time, turning once, until browned and crisp, 2 minutes. Drain on paper towels and transfer to a baking sheet. When all of the empanadas have been fried, reheat them in the oven and serve.

Recipe from https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/mini-panamanian-beef-empanadas