By Stephanie Bryant-Erdmann, USW Market Analyst
Every year USW sends board teams overseas to give leading U.S. wheat farmers the opportunity to learn from customers about the wheat quality characteristics their markets prioritize, and to strengthen the relationship between wheat farmers and their customers. One of those teams returned from a trip to Asian countries in mid-March.
The 2018 Asia Board Team, led by USW Market Analyst, Stephanie Bryant-Erdmann, traveled to China and Taiwan. The team included: Mike Carstensen, a wheat farmer from Almira, Wash., and a current USW director representing the Washington Grain Commission; Clark Hamilton, a wheat farmer from Ririe, Ida., and a current USW director representing the Idaho Wheat Commission; Gordon Stoner, a wheat farmer from Outlook, Mont., and the past president of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG), and Scott Swenson, a wheat farmer from Elbow Lake, Minn., and Treasurer of the Minnesota Wheat Research and Promotion Council.
In Qingdao, China, the team met with traders, millers and bakers who provided a unique perspective on the processing and marketing sectors of the wheat value chain. They also toured retail bakeries where they sampled traditional Chinese baked goods and visited an instant noodle and puff snack factory. The team was impressed with the freshness, variety and quality of the products and were particularly fond of a chocolate bread with mango filling. The team learned that stability time, water absorption, protein and color are especially important to the Chinese baking industry.
“At each meeting, the team heard how Chinese millers use U.S. wheat to improve flour products to meet customer demands. In return, team members shared information about the research programs in the United States and the focus on improving quality through the adoption of preferred variety lists,” said Bryant-Erdmann. “The message to customers was U.S. wheat farmers are committed to producing a high-quality product that meets their customer needs.”
U.S. wheat faces several challenges in China, including perennial trade policy issues and strong competition from Canada. U.S. soft wheat represents a good opportunity for continued growth in a market that is growing in sophistication both from the consumer side and from the milling and end-product manufacturing side.
In Taiwan, the team met with the Taiwanese Flour Millers Association, where they learned more about the high-quality Taiwan flour market. Carstensen, Hamilton, Stoner and Swenson each spoke about current growing and planting conditions on their farms and provided an early outlook for the 2018/19 wheat crop — noting that weather would play a big role in final planting decisions, yields and production. Stoner also gave the group a U.S. farm bill update, highlighting the importance of the various programs to U.S. farmers and their customers.
As a first-time board team traveler, Mike Carstensen said “the opportunity to meet with customers and learn more about their business is invaluable. The feedback on wheat quality characteristics is important for us to hear and bring back to share with our wheat breeders.”
Customers in both countries also expressed interest in buying hard white (HW) wheat. Hamilton was able to share his perception of the challenges and opportunities facing U.S. HW production and marketing.
The team also toured Taiwanese wheat food manufacturing plants, retail bakeries and a flour mill with the representatives from the American Institute of Taiwan and the U.S. Agricultural Trade Office. One highlight was visiting the Chimei showcase bakery and trying traditional Taiwanese pineapple cake. Swenson was impressed with the wide range of products, some of which are available in the United States.
“The world is a small place and maintaining the strong relationship between the U.S. wheat farmer and their overseas customers is crucial to the continued success of both,” he said.
U.S. wheat enjoys a strong loyalty from its Taiwanese customers, with the strongest competition coming from containerized shipments of Australian wheat. Improving U.S. logistics for containerized wheat was a long-term concern the team identified and plans to share with their fellow commission members.
The team will report to the USW board later this year. To see pictures from the trip please visit the USW Facebook page at www.facebook/uswheat.