When a new Administration takes office and appoints new leadership, new opportunities and challenges for U.S. agriculture and trade are inevitable. It becomes increasingly important for the U.S. wheat industry to continue to renew the relationships built over the years with overseas customers and clearly communicate how changes might affect them.
Every year, as a part of USW’s market development activities, several overseas teams of U.S. wheat customers are organized and invited to travel to the United States to learn firsthand about the benefits of a business relationship with the U.S. wheat industry. USW welcomed its first 2017 trade team, a group of five Japanese executive flour millers, to the United States April 18 to May 6. USW collaborated with the Oregon Wheat Commission (OWC), Washington Grain Commission (WGC), Idaho Wheat Commission (IWC) and North Dakota Wheat Commission (NDWC) to organize and host this trade team.
“The United States is the biggest wheat supplier for Japan, so it is important to maintain dialogue between representatives of Japan’s biggest wheat users and our U.S. wheat contacts,” said Mr. Masaaki Kadota, Executive Director of the Japan Flour Millers Association (JFMA). “Our focus for this trip was to exchange views on future trade issues and maintaining a stable supply of wheat to meet our needs.”
USW President Alan Tracy noted that JFMA and the U.S. wheat industry have maintained a mutually respectful relationship for many years.
“We want to thank Mr. Kadota for his friendship and many years of service,” Tracy said.
The team began its trip in Portland, OR, meeting with U.S. wheat producers from Oregon and Idaho to discuss current crop conditions. Darren Padget, OWC Chairman, outlined the pressing decisions farmers have to make that affect the wheat crop and Bill Flory, Wheat Marketing Center (WMC) Chairman, hosted the group for a tour of the WMC laboratory. The team also met with the staff at the Overseas Merchandise Inspection Company (OMIC) grain and chemical residue testing laboratories and with the Japanese grain traders.
“At our office, we discussed the overall decrease in wheat seeded area, but we also assured them that the United States has ample carryover stocks and production conditions look pretty good for states that are tributary to Pacific Northwest ports,” said Steve Wirsching, USW Vice President and Director of the USW West Coast Office.
Next, the team traveled to Washington state, where they looked at the journey wheat takes from the farm to port, visiting with USW Vice Chairman Mike Miller while touring a warehouse and rail facility. They also learned more about plant breeding innovations at the Washington State University wheat breeding program and the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Western Wheat Quality Lab in Pullman.
During the next leg of their trip to Washington, DC, the team shifted its focus to the U.S. and global wheat market situation and trade policy, including meetings with the North American Export Grain Association, National Grain and Feed Association and USDA/FAS.
The team rounded out their trip in North Dakota where they met with U.S. wheat producers and focused on wheat quality and the North Dakota State University wheat breeding programs.
“Japanese consumers seek extremely high quality, safe and secure products,” said Mr. Junji Kokuryo, General Manager, Flour Milling Department, and Officer, Showa Sangyo Co. “It is our responsibility to convey those needs and message to U.S. wheat producers and breeders.”
Erica Olson, NDWC Marketing Specialist, said the team was very interested in hearing about planting progress and crop expectations in North Dakota.
“Japan is not only one of our oldest customers and quality focused buyers, but they are often the largest importer of hard red spring wheat,” said Olson “Hosting the team gives them the opportunity to share their questions and needs with producers. In return, our producers better understand the necessity of a quality product — that all wheat is not created equal and that they need to produce a crop that stands out amongst the growing competition.”
In 2016, the USW Tokyo Office celebrated 60 years serving customers in Japan and since the office opened in 1956, bringing trade teams to the United States has become a tradition.
“Steady communication and transparency is the key to the U.S. wheat industry’s long term relationship with Japan,” said Wirsching. “Inviting our customers — and friends — here renews that commitment year-after-year and is an investment in both of our industries.”
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