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Pacific Northwest and Minnesota Wheat Farmers Travel to Japan and Korea on USW Board Team
March 04, 2016
ARLINGTON, Virginia — Every year, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) sponsors opportunities for farmer directors on the USW board or state wheat commission staff to travel to overseas markets for U.S. wheat. The intense, regional “board team” visits help participants observe the day-to-day work of USW’s overseas offices and connect them to their customers and industry stakeholders.

“Board teams help build personal connections between our overseas customers and U.S. wheat farmers,” says USW Vice President of Overseas Operations Vince Peterson. “U.S. wheat is the world’s most reliable source of high quality wheat, and part of that reputation comes from the people who grow it. We consistently hear how much the customer appreciates getting to know the farmer.”

This year, USW Policy Specialist Elizabeth Westendorf will lead a North Asia Board Team to Japan and Korea in early March. The team includes Darren Padget, a wheat farmer from Grass Valley, OR, and a current USW director representing the Oregon Wheat Commission; Greg LeBlanc, a wheat farmer from Crookston, MN, and a director of the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council; Clark Hamilton, a wheat farmer from Ririe, ID, and a current USW director representing the Idaho Wheat Commission; and Gary Bailey, a wheat farmer from St. John, WA and a current USW director representing the Washington Grain Commission.

The team will first meet at the USW West Coast Office and with the grain trade in Portland, OR for an orientation before traveling overseas. Over three days in Japan, the team will visit government contacts at the U.S. Embassy and Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and meet with millers, bakers and the grain trade. The second leg of the trip features three days in Korea, which includes visiting the largest fried noodle manufacturing facility in Korea, mill tours and a meeting with the Korea Flour Mills Industrial Association.

The team will post regular travel updates and photographs, and will report later this year to the USW board of directors. Follow their progress on the USW Facebook page at www.facebook/uswheat and on Twitter at @uswheatassoc.

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2016 North Asia Board Team – Participants

Clark Hamilton
Idaho Wheat Commission

Clark Hamilton operates a diverse 6,000-acre family farm in Idaho’s Bonneville Countym primarily producing wheat, barley, potatoes, alfalfa and peas. He joined his father and other family members in running the operation more than thirty years ago.

Clark spent the past five years serving and representing Idaho wheat and barley farmers as an executive officer of the Idaho Grain Producers Association (IGPA). While serving in that role, he became very familiar with the local, state and national issues impacting agriculture and wheat, specifically.

Clark holds a bachelor’s degree in plant science and a minor in biology from Utah State University. He and his wife Kristi have been married for 28 years. They have four children and one grandchild.

Greg LeBlanc
Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council

Greg LeBlanc, born and raised in Crookston, MN, has been farming since 1975 and harvested his 40th wheat crop last year.

He has been involved in various farm organizations, including as a member of the Minnesota Soybean Council from 2006 to 2012, where he served two years as Research Committee Chairman. LeBlanc was elected to the Minnesota Wheat Council in 2014 and serves on the Research and Budget Committees.

Greg graduated from the University of Minnesota at Crookston in the spring of 1978 with an applied science associate’s degree in crop production. Greg and his wife Marlene, who works at the Minnesota Extension Service, will celebrate their 30th wedding anniversary in 2016. They have two adult children: Matthew, an Occupational Therapist, and Dominic, who farms with Greg.

Darren Padget
Oregon Wheat Commission

Darren Padget is a fourth generation farmer in Sherman County, OR, currently producing registered and certified seed on 3,400 acres annually.

Darren held positions on the Oregon Wheat Growers League board of directors and executive committee for seven years, serving as president in 2010. He chaired the Research and Technology Committee for the National Association of Wheat Growers. He has also served on the Mid-Columbia Producers board of directors, of which he was an officer for 10 years.

Serving on these boards has provided him with great insight into the wheat industry. He is very familiar with the challenges that lie ahead in research and market development.

Gary Bailey
Washington Grain Commission

Gary Bailey is a St. John, WA, wheat grower representing Whitman County, the state’s largest wheat growing county. Bailey grew up in this Palouse community and received his bachelor’s degree in business and agriculture from the University of Idaho. He worked for what is now Northwest Farm Credit Services before returning to the farm in 1989. He and his brother Mark raise winter and spring wheat and barley.

Gary previously served on the Board of Directors for St. John Grain Growers, now Whitgro, and also served on the Local Advisory Committee for the Colfax branch of Northwest Farm Credit Services. He currently sits on Washington State University’s Land Legacy Committee, and the Board of Directors for St. John TelCo. His wife Linda is Associate Director of Development in the College of Agriculture, Human and Natural Resource Sciences at Washington State University in Pullman. The couple has three sons.

Elizabeth Westendorf
U.S. Wheat Associates Team Lead

Elizabeth Westendorf, Policy Specialist, assists in implementing USW’s biotechnology and food aid efforts and provides support on trade policy issues impacting exports, including issues in China, Canada, Mexico, the European Union and Morocco.

Elizabeth graduated from Georgetown University’s Undergraduate School of Foreign Service in 2014, where she studied International Political Economy and wrote her thesis on acceptance of agricultural biotechnology in Africa. She studied abroad for a year at the London School of Economics. During her studies, she interned at the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, and was a World Food Prize Wallace Carver Fellow with USDA’s Economic Research Service, where she helped analyze the economic impacts of sub-therapeutic antibiotics in livestock.

Prior to joining USW, Elizabeth worked at Winrock International on a sustainable agriculture project, focusing on developing project evaluations and communications. She was born in Iowa and now lives in Arlington, VA.
The U.S. Wheat Industry in Japan and Korea

In 1949, the Oregon Wheat Growers League organized a trade delegation to investigate ways to expand U.S. wheat sales to Japan. That trip ultimately resulted in a variety of marketing and education activities conducted by Western Wheat Associates, including a “Kitchens on Wheels” program that promoted wheat foods to Japanese consumers in rural areas. Western Wheat Associates opened an office in Tokyo in 1956. That organization merged with Great Plains Wheat in 1980 to become U.S. Wheat Associates (USW).

From that beginning, USW has developed a strong working relationship with Japan’s government and its milling and baking industries to help strengthen commercial links with U.S. export companies through trade servicing, technical assistance and facilitating trade visits to the United States.

USW’s efforts in Japan focus on providing up-to-date market information and collaborating with Japanese industry groups. The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) carries out all wheat purchases in Japan and then sells the wheat to Japanese flour mills. The Japanese grain trade acts as intermediaries between MAFF and overseas sellers, and MAFF relies on the Federal Grain Inspection Service to certify that its specifications are met. The Portland, OR, office of OMIC USA Inc., conducts stringent residue testing for MAFF as the wheat is loaded and its offices in Japan test the wheat again when it arrives at its destination.

In Japan, this USW Board Team will see how 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 significantly more U.S. wheat than any other country over the years, including more than 3.50 million metric tons (MMT) on average the last five years. MAFF 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.

Japan’s milling and baking industries are highly advanced. A modern baking plant produces 600 to 700 different items daily from more than 30 blends of flour of various classes while meeting strict quality and food safety restrictions. As a result, Japanese millers demand very high standards of cleanliness and uniformity — and U.S. wheat farmers consistently meet those standards.

Japanese customers value consistency and reliability. Their keen concerns include food safety issues. Flour millers want to increase their knowledge about the quality and supply chain of U.S. wheat.

For example, as a participant in USW’s Overseas Variety Analysis (OVA) program, Japan is a part of a collaborative effort of wheat breeders, wheat commissions, government research agencies, domestic partners, and overseas millers and bakers that add more value to U.S. wheat varieties each year. Historical OVA performance data from customers in Japan and many other countries demonstrate that the U.S. wheat industry strives to continuously improve U.S. wheat quality.

The trust between USW and the Japanese industry allows for open dialogue between the two countries, to foster a mutually beneficial, long-term trading relationship.

Korean Millers, Bakers See Value in U.S. Wheat

In the late 1960s, Western Wheat Associates sponsored the first trade team visit to the United States by Korean flour millers. Since then, Korea’s wheat flour and food industry has grown more and more sophisticated and U.S. wheat farmers and the U.S. grain chain have consistently delivered high quality.

The Team will be able to personally assess the strong working relationship USW has cultivated with the Korean Flour Millers Association and the country’s baking industry. Providing detailed information about each class of U.S. wheat every year and directly supporting the Korean Baking School, so our customers recognize the value of our wheat, especially for bread and pastry products — even though we are not the least-cost supply.

The Korean wheat foods market is developing in a way that is similar to the U.S. market. USW Country Director Chang Yoon Kang said end-product flour specifications in Korea are becoming more complicated because consumers demand quality and an increasingly wide range of products. They are also relating food more and more to long-term health.

As a result, Korean millers are buying different specifications within a single class of wheat, instead of blending different classes, to maintain uniform product quality and reduce production costs. For example, millers can specify for U.S. origin dark northern spring wheat or northern spring, each at various protein levels, from U.S. exporters. USW — with funding from USDA Foreign Agricultural Service programs and state wheat commissions — gives the millers the information they need to best write their tenders.

The ultimate reward for so many years of hard work can now be measured on an international scale. In February, competing in front of judges and other professionals, a baking team from Korea beat the pressure to take home the top award at the prestigious World Baking Cup (Coupe du Monde de la Boulangerie). The Korean team included Chang-Min Lee, Jong-Ho Kim and Yong-Joo Park.

USW is also adapting marketing strategies to match food and health trends. For example, USW has actively fostered an increasing interest in whole wheat foods by arranging in-country whole wheat baking seminars and other production courses, including at the Wheat Marketing Center in Portland, OR. These activities provide a positive environment in which to demonstrate the superior qualities of U.S. hard bread wheat classes and soft white (SW) wheat in Korea’s emerging whole wheat product market.

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