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The indelible link between the Japanese people and U.S. wheat producers began when the Oregon Wheat Growers League (OWGL) organized a trade delegation visit in 1949. Today, Japan is a mature, but very sophisticated market that must import most of its milling wheat. By providing critical, timely information about U.S. wheat and related market issues, Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) is helping maintain a majority market share in a critical market with 2014/15 imports equal to more than 10 percent of total U.S. wheat exports.

Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF), grain traders, millers and bakers are pressed by consumers to consistently deliver excellent quality, uniformity, variety and safety. They must be prepared to defend their work. That is why USW and its state wheat commission members focus activities there on helping buyers understand the quality of every wheat crop, keeping both Japanese government and millers informed about market and policy developments and collaborating in detail on any food safety related concerns.

For example, according to the Japan Consumer Affairs Agency, buckwheat is among seven potential allergens that can produce severe reactions. USW works with state commissions to provide assurance that imported U.S. wheat meets the market’s “no-buckwheat” demand. Together they travel to Japan to fully understand the issue from the customers’ point of view. They help farmers adopt practices to keep buckwheat out of wheat crops.” And in 2015, they hosted on-farm visits to show Japanese miller why there is a low risk of seeing buckwheat in U.S. wheat shipments.

Another example developed in 2013 following the discovery of wheat plants with an unapproved genetically modified (GM) trait in a single field in Oregon. From the start, FAS, USW, the U.S. commercial grain trade, state wheat organizations and wheat farmers took this unusual situation very seriously. Their work helped identify and share the most accurate information from the ongoing APHIS investigation to buyers, government agencies and end users. While MAFF temporarily suspended new purchases of U.S. Western White, a sub-class of soft white (SW) wheat, the reasoned response to the incident provided the assurance MAFF needed to quickly resume Western White tenders and minimize the market disruption.

This consistent level of service, supported by MAP and FMD funds, helped protect U.S. wheat sales in the face of aggressive competition from Canada and Australia. Income from Japan comes back to wheat farmers and the wheat supply chain in the Pacific Northwest and farmers in Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota and Nebraska.

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Using Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) program funds, USDA Foreign Market Development (FAS) cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) keeps Brazilian millers informed about the quality, variety and value of U.S. wheat every year — even though Brazil regularly imports most of its wheat from Argentina. This knowledge resulted in Brazilian millers buying most of their wheat from the United States between March 2013 and May 2014 when Argentina could not meet their demand.

With high demand, Brazil imports more wheat than most other countries because its farmers cannot produce sufficient domestic supplies. Under the Mercosur trade agreement, Brazil’s millers can import wheat from Argentina without having to pay the tariff of 10 percent or a substantial “Merchant Marine Renovation” tax levied on wheat imported from non-Mercosur countries like the United States.

The Argentine government tightly controls the local wheat supply and, after two poor crops, it decided in December 2012 to cut the amount of wheat it would allow to be exported. Using information from USW in regular trade service calls and at their annual association meeting, Brazil’s millers responded by asking their own government to suspend the 10 percent tariff on non-Mercosur wheat imports, a request that was granted in April 2013.

USW representatives in the South American regional office in Santiago, Chile, quickly marshalled MAP funds to organize a trip for executives from the largest Brazilian milling company to visit the Kansas Wheat Innovation Center, the International Grains Program, the USDA Center for Grain and Animal Health Research and a local wheat farm. By October 2013, a large mill represented on the trip to the United States had purchased more than 37 million bushels of U.S. hard red winter (HRW) wheat

In São Paolo, USW held seminars to show Brazilian wheat purchasing managers how to manage price risk and specify for the best value in U.S. HRW and soft red winter (SRW) wheat. In a separate seminar, milling managers gained technical information to help adjust their systems to get the most yield and highest quality flour from U.S. wheat.

In April and May 2013, Brazil imported 13.4 million bushels of HRW and SRW, or about the same amount of U.S. wheat Brazil usually imports for an entire year. The orders kept coming even after the government re-established the import tariff in November 2013. By the end of May 2014, U.S. commercial sales (delivered or booked) totaled more than 151 million bushels of HRW, which represents about one-third of total U.S. HRW sales for the entire 2013/14 marketing year, and more than 7.2 million bushels of SRW.

That represents a substantial return in revenue to the U.S. wheat industry and farmers.