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In the early 1960s, U.S. wheat farmers reached out through Western Wheat Associates (WWA) to build new partnerships with Taiwan. After many visits, WWA opened an office in Taipei in 1966. With cooperation, forward-thinking and much success over the years and with support from U.S. wheat farmers and USDA Foreign Agricultural Service export market development programs, USW has served Taiwan’s flour milling, technical education and wheat foods organizations for 50 years.

The Taiwan Flour Mills Association (TFMA) and USW forged a uniquely productive relationship. U.S. wheat farmers helped TFMA create the Taiwan Wheat Food Promotion Council, which established a baking school in Taipei. As U.S. wheat farmers continued to provide the highest quality wheat, USW continued to provide service and support that helped TFMA promote wholesome, nutritious wheat foods to Taiwan’s consumers. This trusted relationship still allows TFMA to confidently import almost all its wheat from the United States. Taiwan is on average the sixth largest market for U.S. wheat. In each of the past three marketing years, Taiwan’s flour millers purchased about 1.0 million metric tons of U.S. hard red spring (HRS), hard red winter (HRW) and soft white (SW) wheat currently valued at about $250 million.

The early spirit of cooperation with millers extended to building a vital wheat foods industry. Training at the baking school set the standards for an industry that wanted to produce the finest quality wheat food in the world. When millers and bakers raised the money to expand in 1984, the school became the China Wheat (now Grains) Products Research and Development Institute with an added focus on developing new wheat foods and demand continued to grow.

Members of the Taipei Bakery Association (TBA) and bakers across the country have always produced consumer goods of the highest quality. With a permanent office in Taipei, U.S. wheat farmers quickly reached out to TBA to join TFMA and educational leaders in developing and promoting healthy bakery products. Together they sponsored baking courses and contests, consumer outreach, school lunch programs, supported by trade service and technical support from USW.

The ultimate reward for so many years of hard work can now be measured on an international scale. Taiwan’s industry took the world by surprise by sending a team for the first time to the prestigious World Bakery Cup in 2008 that earned a bronze medal. Another bronze followed in 2012 and in 2016, Taiwan’s baking team won a silver medal. On a more practical level, consumption of wheat foods in Taiwan has now surpassed that of rice, a remarkable achievement reflecting the power of cooperation.

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With funding from several state wheat checkoff programs and USDA Foreign Agricultural Service export market development programs, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) is helping new flour millers learn how to get the wheat they need from U.S. farmers, a strategy that has built a dominant market share in this growing Southeast Asian market.

USW has for more than 50 years helped Philippine flour millers use sophisticated purchase specifications that increase value and enable the millers to import five classes of U.S. wheat. However, the industry is undergoing a generational transfer of leadership to younger family members or staff.  Some knowledge gets passed down but this transition still requires significant training to assure new market participants can navigate the evolving international trading environment.

USW is addressing this transition through trade team visits to observe the U.S. wheat production and marketing systems, workshops on how to write the best U.S. wheat tenders and information on the quality and functionalities for every crop. These activities, funded by the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, help assure the next generation of decision-makers are familiar with the U.S. marketing system and the advantages of U.S. wheat classes in milling and end-product performance. The activities also prepare the industry for key quality concerns and opportunities in the current crop, helping them revise their specifications appropriately to maximize the value of the wheat they receive.

For example, in August 2015, USW sponsored a U.S. visit for new managers at Monde Nissin and Atlantic Milling. They learned that hard red spring (HRS) basis was at historic lows and low protein soft white (SW) stocks were very tight. As a result, these mills accelerated their purchasing pace and bought 110,000 metric tons (MT) of U.S. wheat sending substantial revenue back to the U.S. supply chain and farmers in the Pacific Northwest, Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. This early purchase of U.S. wheat pre-empted the risk that both mills would consider purchasing lower priced spring wheat from Canada.

In October 2015, during a USW contracting workshop, market leading flour miller San Miguel used the information to revise confusing specifications in their contract language that helped reduce their import cost. This led them to make their first hard red winter (HRW) purchase in recent history. It is the fourth year in a row that San Miguel bought U.S. milling wheat exclusively, maintaining U.S. wheat as the quality standard in the Philippine market. In turn, this further reduces the chance that other mills may consider importing from other origins.

In marketing year 2015/16 (June to May), Philippine millers imported more U.S. HRS and SW wheat than any other country in the world. Its total imports of 2.164 million metric tons of U.S. wheat in 2015/16 ranks the Philippines at third among all countries. This represents more than 90 percent of total Philippine milling wheat imports and a substantial estimated return to the U.S. wheat supply chain.

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The emergence of Russia as a very competitive wheat exporting country has dramatically changed the Egyptian market opportunity for U.S. wheat farmers. Egypt still imports more wheat than any other country, but for several years Egypt’s government purchasing agency has been able to import Russian wheat and wheat from other nearby exporters at FOB costs that have been as much as $50 per metric ton cheaper than U.S. wheat on top of a freight advantage. Most Russian wheat is imported for use in Egypt’s subsidized baladi bread program.

USDA Foreign Agricultural Service cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) recognizes these challenges and has shifted Foreign Market Development (FMD) and Market Access Program (MAP) funding from staff and activities in Egypt to other regions and countries that offer better opportunity for U.S. wheat export sales. However, USW has identified an emerging high-value market in cookies, crackers and cakes, as well as other products like pasta, in Egypt that is served by private importers, mills and processors. While such products are affordable for many Egyptian consumers, they return higher margins to the supply chain and they require high quality flour and offer a new opportunity for U.S. wheat.

In marketing year 20115/16 (June to May), for example, Badawi Group contacted the USW office in Cairo to discuss their plans to introduce a new line of branded pasta products. Badawi is the largest tea company in Egypt and wanted to extend a respected, premium reputation into the growing pasta market.

USW Regional Technical Specialist Peter Lloyd traveled from Casablanca, Morocco, to meet with Badawi managers. While durum wheat is the premier source of semolina for pasta, flour from other wheat classes can be used effectively depending on cost and consumer preferences. After reviewing Badawi’s product concepts, Lloyd recommended the company should consider using high protein U.S. hard red spring (HRS) wheat as its primary pasta ingredient.

Next, USW Regional Director Ian Flagg and Marketing Consultant Nihal Habib reviewed how Badawi could best execute a HRS wheat purchase. Following a final discussion, Badawi imported 30,000 metric tons of HRW in 2015/16, the first significant sale of U.S. spring wheat to Egypt in many years. The purchase returned significant revenue to U.S. spring wheat farmers in North Dakota, Montana, South Dakota and Minnesota from a very small investment of MAP and FMD funds. This opportunity would never have materialized if that investment and USW’s ability to serve this prospect were not in place. Moreover, Badawi set a standard for premium tea in Egypt and USW believes it can set another standard for premium pasta, which holds promise for additional HRS sales.

USW is fostering similar opportunities in Egypt through technical support aimed at helping build a preference for U.S. soft red winter and soft white wheat in the emerging cookie, cracker and cake products. The effort shows that USW is making the most efficient use possible of MAP, FMD and U.S. wheat producer funding in response to changing market dynamics.

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Perceptions of wheat flour quality can be difficult to change. Korean flour millers, for example, traditionally judge U.S. soft white (SW) wheat quality based on #1 Grade and a very low protein specification. Unfortunately, two years of hot, dry growing conditions in Washington and Oregon severely reduced the low-protein SW supply and spurred a price barrier to sales. Through trade service and technical support funded by the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program, FAS cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) was able to show the millers that they could import higher protein SW at a much lower cost and still meet customer demand. In turn, this effort ended a significant decline in imports.

SW wheat is ideal for the cake, cracker and confection products that make up a large part of Korea’s flour consumption. Between marketing years 2013/14 and 2015/16, USW took a multi-tiered approach to maintaining this important market:

  • Representatives based in Seoul convinced millers to use Solvent Retention Capacity (SRC) analysis, rather than only using protein specifications, to measure SW flour performance.
  • Working with state wheat commissions, USW support staff in the United States shipped samples of the more abundant higher protein SW to Korea. Technical staff performed the SRC analysis on flour milled from the samples and successfully demonstrated equivalent performance.
  • The next step was to prove the SRC analysis and higher protein SW flour performance to downstream bakery and confectionery customers in a seminar supervised by USW South Asia Bakery Consultant Roy Chung. The largest commercial bakery in Korea saw the opportunities and purchased an SRC analyzer.
  • Finally, USW helped large flour millers understand how they could adjust grade and protein tender specifications. Two large millers did change their specifications and tendered for SW with slightly higher protein levels, which helped reduce import costs. The Korean Flour Millers Association also relaxed some of its grade requirements and received a discount of $5 per metric ton from the trade.

In marketing year 2013/14, before the challenge of higher protein levels appeared, Korean millers imported an estimated 731,000 metric tons (MT) of SW worth about $212 million. As the cost of very low protein SW increased, millers cut back on imports while learning about alternatives from USW. Total SW exports fell to about 538,000 MT in 2014/15.

Armed with new information and support from their customers, these millers were able to slightly increase SW imports in 2015/16 to about 565,000 MT, returning value to the U.S. wheat supply chain and farmers in Washington, Oregon and Idaho.

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U.S. wheat is seldom the least-cost option for importers, but it has a reputation for quality that adds critical value. Recognizing that quality starts with the seeds farmers sow, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) gathers feedback from its overseas customers that is shared with the scientists who breed new wheat varieties at home.

With partial funding from the Foreign Market Development program, for example, USW and state wheat commissions in Oregon, Washington, North Dakota and Minnesota organized a Wheat Quality Improvement Team (WQIT) of four university wheat breeders to meet with customers in Japan, Korea and Thailand April 18 to 26, 2015.

The breeders heard what wheat buyers, flour millers and wheat food producers like and do not like about U.S. soft white (SW) and hard red spring (HRS) wheat quality. At the same meetings, the breeders informed these customers about their work to improve the quality and yield potential of newly released varieties. This was the fourth WQIT led by USW. In 2004, a similar trip was made to Asia, followed by Latin America in 2009, and Europe and North Africa in 2010.

The team also took part in an Overseas Variety Analysis (OVA) program event at the UFM Baking School in Bangkok, Thailand. Through OVA, USW creates direct comparisons between U.S. varieties and competing wheat supplies. Working with the Wheat Quality Council, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, state universities and wheat commissions, USW selects new varieties to mill and sent to overseas cooperators in top markets who analyze their quality in end-use projects and compare them to standard control flours.

Feedback from the OVA program and this year’s WQIT will bring results home to the farm. The next step for the WQIT is to apply the feedback and observations to research and wheat breeding programs, as well as share insights with other breeders, wheat producers and invested state wheat commissions. The OVA data will be shared with state wheat commissions and the Wheat Quality Council to set quality targets for breeding research and to develop recommended variety lists for farmers.

These activities create a primary basis for continual improvement in U.S. wheat quality that in turn supports import demand each year. USW used the Foreign Market Development program help fund the recent WQIT and the Market Access Program to engage customers and breeders through the OVA program.

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While U.S. farmers supply nearly 80 percent of wheat imports into the Caribbean region, some importing countries have traditionally preferred Canadian wheat, including Guyana. However, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) is now displacing Canadian sales there by demonstrating how the characteristics of U.S. wheat offer a higher return to flour millers.

Noting that Canadian Western Red Spring wheat is pre-cleaned at export elevators and has higher moisture content than U.S. wheat, Canadian marketers in the past strongly suggested that flour mills could expand production capacity without cleaning or tempering (adding water at the mill). In fact, by adding water to an optimum level for milling, U.S. wheat allows the mills to condition their grist to an ideal moisture that allows them to increase their flour yields and profitability.

Using Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) funds, USW has long supported the Caribbean Millers Association and first started challenging the Canadian wheat position in discussions with members of the association. Then, following a trade servicing visit by USW, a mill in Guyana decided to construct a cleaning house. To support a transition to milling U.S. wheat, USW sent a consultant to the mill who demonstrated how to specify for reduced dockage in U.S. wheat tenders.

As a result, Guyana received its first commercial shipment of 6,800 metric tons (MT) of U.S. wheat in May 2013. The next marketing year, U.S. wheat sales to Guyana reached 20,300 MT, equal to a 50 percent market share. And in marketing year 2014/15, Guyana imported 30,100 MT of U.S. hard red spring (HRS), hard red winter (HRW) and soft white (SW) wheat representing returns that go to the U.S. wheat industry from the Gulf of Mexico back to farms in North Dakota, Oklahoma, Kansas, Washington and Oregon.

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With Vietnamese wheat imports projected to increase 40 percent in the next 10 years, USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) cooperator U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) is leveraging export market development funds to position U.S. wheat as the high quality, high value choice for milling and baking operations.

USW utilizes Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) funding, supplemented with checkoff dollars from state wheat commissions, to work directly with large volume millers and bakers in Vietnam to promote U.S. hard red spring (HRS) wheat and hard red winter (HRW) and develop better end-products with cake plants by using U.S. soft white (SW) wheat.

In June 2014, for example, USW conducted a Contracting for Value Workshop to help flour mill purchasing managers select the right classes and characteristics to extract the most benefit from U.S. wheat imports. Four mills in Vietnam now report using strategies presented in the workshop to help adjust contract specifications based on annual quality variations. One mill said USW’s trade servicing helped persuade them to include U.S. HRS in their long-term business plan and increased purchases of U.S. wheat from 9,600 MT in 2012 to 78,000 MT in 2014, a substantial increase in revenue. An additional procurement workshop in April 2014 convinced another mill to purchase 44,500 MT of U.S. wheat (25,000 MT U.S. HRS and 20,000 U.S. SW) even though the mill had typically purchased Canadian wheat at a lower price.

Also in 2014, USW continued encouraging cake plants to switch from Australian standard white (ASW) to U.S. SW to increase cake volume and extend product shelf life. After an educational seminar and in-plant consultations, seven cake plants in Vietnam now use 100 percent U.S. SW in their production of extended shelf life cakes.

As a result, Vietnam imported 243,000 MT of U.S. wheat in 2014/15. That is well above the 140,000 MT imported in 2013/14. Overall, for the past five marketing years, U.S. wheat sales have exceeded 100,000 MT per year, up from the previous decade average of 32,000 MT per year. That return comes from a much smaller investment in MAP and FMD funds over the past few years and a similar level of support from state wheat commissions.

USW’s long-term market development strategy in Vietnam is establishing a clear preference for U.S. HRS and SW wheat —all at a time when USDA predicts Vietnam’s wheat import demand to continue growing. The benefits will continue to return significant value to farmers and related industries in Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota and Minnesota.

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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.