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Japanese Executive Millers Return for Annual U.S. Wheat Tour
April 22, 2016
ARLINGTON, Virginia — On the heels of a momentous event celebrating 60 years with a U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) office in Japan, a team of four senior executives from Japan’s leading milling companies will travel to the United States to continue building upon that legacy. As a part of USW’s market development activities, the trip includes stops in Oregon and Washington, DC from April 28 to May 4, 2016.

“Japan is a loyal U.S. wheat customer because our relationship is built on mutual trust and our commitment to the best interests of our end-use customers,” said USW Vice President and West Coast Office Director Steve Wirsching. “But as with every relationship, it is important to keep the lines of communications open and to demonstrate full transparency in our practices. This trade team visit is essential to that mission.”

USW collaborated with the Oregon Wheat Commission to organize and host this trade team.

The Oregon Wheat Growers League (OWGL) established the first overseas U.S. wheat export office in Tokyo in 1956 and in that same year, the first team of Japanese millers visited the United States to learn observe U.S. wheat production, quality and marketing. Over the years, bringing trade teams to the United States has become a tradition and for well over a decade, this particular activity has become an annual trip for Japanese executive millers. Often the team extends its traditional trip to the Pacific Northwest to include a visit to Washington, DC.

During its visit to Oregon, the team will follow the wheat through the supply chain from farm to shipment, demonstrating at the each step the U.S. wheat industry’s commitment to quality and efficiency. Their time will include meetings and tours with the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) and Louis Dreyfus export terminal. Once in Washington, DC, the team will shift its focus to trade policy and get an overview of the U.S. and global wheat market situation. They will also discuss modern farm management systems, dietary trends and views on competitive markets.

“Japan is an essential market for U.S. producers, purchasing 3.2 million metric tons (MMT) of wheat annually, making it the single largest buyer of U.S. wheat in the world. Japanese consumers demand high quality and expect a consistent and reliable supply of wheat food products,” said Wirsching. “At the 60 year anniversary event, the head of the Japanese Millers Association explained that U.S. wheat accounts for six percent of the daily caloric intake of the average Japanese consumer. That is a vivid illustration of the success of this partnership and how much is required from our farmers and wheat supply system.”

USW is the industry’s market development organization working in more than 100 countries. Its mission is to “develop, maintain, and expand international markets to enhance the profitability of U.S. wheat producers and their customers.” USW activities are made possible through producer checkoff dollars managed by 19 state wheat commissions and cost-share funding provided by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. USW maintains 17 offices strategically located around the world to help wheat buyers, millers, bakers, wheat food processors and government officials understand the quality, value and reliability of all six classes of U.S. wheat.

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2016 Japanese Executive Millers – Team Members

Mr. Kenji Takihara
Director/Executive General Manager, Operations & Planning, Nisshin Flour

Mr. Toshifumi Horiuchi
Director/General Manager, Business Administrative, Nippon Flour

Mr. Takeshi Koizumi
Managing Director, Nitto Fuji Flour

Mr. Masaaki Kadota
Executive Director, Japan Flour Millers Association

Mr. Wataru “Charlie” Utsunomiya
Country Director, Tokyo, U.S. Wheat Associates
The U.S. Wheat Industry Relationship with Japan

The indelible link between the Japanese people and U.S. wheat producers began when the Oregon Wheat Growers League (OWGL) organized a trade delegation to investigate opportunities for expanding U.S. wheat sales to Japan in 1949. In 1956, with a vision to the future, OWGL opened an office in Tokyo to share information about the wholesome goodness of wheat foods. The success of this endeavor helped encourage wheat farmer organizations in the state of Washington and Idaho to join OWGL in forming Western Wheat Associates (WWA), which merged with Great Plains Wheat in 1980 to become U.S. Wheat Associates (USW).

In the early years, USW’s legacy organizations focused on acquainting the Japanese people with the nutritional value of wheat foods. Perhaps the most famous efforts were “Kitchens on Wheels” traveling through rural Japan to promote wheat foods to Japanese consumers, conducted jointly by OWGL and the Japan Nutrition Association, with financial assistance from USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), which has remained an essential partner with USW and our Japanese customers. Eventually, management of these programs transitioned to eight key prefectures. Another early program involved the introduction of bread to school lunch programs. As market conditions changed, the wheat industry’s Tokyo office contracted with the Japan Institute of Baking to conduct functional and quality testing offering proof that flour products milled from U.S. hard red spring and hard red winter wheat classes could compete with Canadian spring wheat. Those early efforts continued to expand and change as Japan’s milling and baking industries advanced in sophistication and automation to set global standards of cleanliness, uniformity and variety of products for consumers.

Working to Increase Confidence
For example, recognizing that our customers in Japan needed the confidence they could contract for and receive wheat of the highest quality, USW took action. Managers worked closely with the Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry (MAFF), Japan’s grain trade and flour millers to refine specifications in tenders for U.S. wheat. At the same time, USW and its state wheat commission members worked with the U.S. grain trade to respond to these specifications. Partly as a result, Pacific Northwest export elevators changed their processes to improve segregation and installed cleaners.

Over the years, a strong trust had grown between U.S. wheat farmers, state wheat commissions, USW, MAFF, millers and bakers, as well as the Japanese grain trade and their quality assurance partners. This bond has helped us all weather many challenges. Today, those efforts continue to pay off with U.S. wheat enjoying the largest market share in a well-established and quality conscious market. Japan has purchased an average of 3.2 million metric tons (MMT) of wheat annually, which is significantly more U.S. wheat than any other country over the years. Japan issues consistent, large, weekly tenders for U.S. hard red spring (HRS), hard red winter (HRW) and western white, which is a blend of soft white (SW) and up to 20 percent club wheat, a SW sub-class.

May our partnership continue to grow even stronger over the next 60 years and beyond!

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