ARLINGTON, Virginia — U.S. Wheat Associates (USW), which represents the interests of U.S. wheat farmers in export markets, is pleased to announce that Mr. Kazunori “Rick” Nakano will join the organization April 1, 2019, as Associate Country Director for Japan, based in Tokyo. Nakano brings more than 27 years of grain trading and management experience with Japan’s Marubeni Corporation to USW. He will work closely with USW Country Director Wataru “Charlie” Utsunomiya, who intends to retire from his position in late September 2019.
“Rick’s work with Marubeni includes trading with Gavilon Grain in Omaha, Neb., and managing trading operations at Columbia Grain’s Portland, Ore., export operation,” said USW Vice President of Overseas Operations Mark Fowler. “His experience is a real benefit for our farmers and for our loyal customers in Japan. In the short term, he will help us navigate the challenges for growers and customers as the United States and Japan negotiate a new trade relationship. He is also an excellent choice to maintain the trust and transparency that has marked our long and very successful partnership with Japan’s wheat buyers, millers and wheat foods industry. While it will be difficult to say good bye to Charlie, we are very happy to welcome Rick to our organization.”
Mr. Nakano joined Marubeni’s cereals and grains section in 1991 after receiving a bachelor’s degree in economics from WASEDA University. His next post was as Marketing Manager at Columbia Grain (CGI) in Portland before returning to Japan and becoming General Manager of Marubeni’s Wheat and Barley Section in 2005. In 2009, he returned to CGI as Vice President to supervise its business operations. He expanded his management responsibilities in 2011 as Assistant General Manager, Food Unit, and General Manager, Global Grain, of Marubeni America Corp. in New York, N.Y. In 2013, Mr. Nakano was appointed Deputy Chief Operating Officer, Agriculture, of Marubeni’s Gavilon Agricultural Investment, Inc., division in Omaha and named General Manager in 2015. Most recently, he was Corporate Officer and General Manager of Marubeni’s Pacific Grain Terminal subsidiary in Tokyo.
Mr. Utsunomiya joined USW in May 2007 after the death of former Country Director Takeo Suzuki. His path to USW also led from grain trading management with Marubeni, including as Chairman of CGI. He also served as President and Chief Executive Officer of Marubeni’s invested rice mill subsidiary, General Manager of the company’s soy processing division and Assistant General Manager of its food division among other positions over his 30-year career with Marubeni.
“We were fortunate Charlie could put that expertise and deep personal knowledge of our customers and contacts in Japan to work for our organization and the wheat farmers we represent,” said USW President Vince Peterson. “His leadership helping us pursue every advantage in the Japanese market has been invaluable. He has been a sage counselor, guiding our efforts properly and effectively through the intricate business culture that accompanies any problem or opportunity there. Charlie’s successful stewardship will leave U.S. wheat interests in a strong position at a very important time in Japan.”
U.S. wheat farmers have maintained a close connection with Japan since 1949, when the Oregon Wheat Growers League organized a wheat export trade delegation to Japan. Following that trip, a variety of marketing and educational activities were started in Japan to promote U.S. wheat, including a school lunch program and a “Kitchen on Wheels” that travelled through rural Japan. USW legacy organization Western Wheat Associates opened an office in Tokyo in 1956.
Since that time, Japan has imported significantly more U.S. wheat than any other country. Buyers at Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries import significant amounts of U.S. hard red spring, hard red winter and Western White wheat, which is then re-sold to Japan’s milling companies to produce flour for bread, noodles, confectionery items and dozens of additional commercial products.
USW’s mission is to “develop, maintain, and expand international markets to enhance wheat’s profitability for U.S. wheat producers and its value for their customers.” USW activities in more than 100 countries are made possible through producer checkoff dollars managed by 17 state wheat commissions and cost-share funding provided by USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service. USW maintains 15 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 U.S. wheat classes. For more information, visit the USW website at www.uswheat.org.
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