A team of five milling executives from Japan is visiting the United States as part of an annual educational tour sponsored by U.S. Wheat Associates (USW). The team, which represents some of the largest and oldest milling companies in Japan, will travel across the country from Washington, DC, to Boise, ID, and Portland, OR, to gain first-hand knowledge of current winter wheat crop conditions as well as issues affecting overall wheat supply and demand.
The Japanese team will be in the United States May 3 to 10. In that time, they will have discussions with representatives from nearly every sector of the wheat industry on a variety of topics, including increasing investment in wheat research, soft white (SW) wheat supply and rising production costs.
“Our ability to meet Japan’s strict contract specifications keeps them as a steady customer of U.S. wheat,” U.S. Wheat Associates Japan Country Director Wataru “Charlie” Utsunomiya said. “Participation in a team like this one develops close working relationships and mutual reliance between U.S. wheat farmers and Japanese millers.”
U.S. wheat farmers have maintained this close connection since 1949, when the Oregon Wheat Growers League (OWGL) organized a 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 from 1956 to 1960.
Since that time, Japan has purchased significantly more U.S. wheat than any other country, importing more than 133 million bushels per year on average for the last five years. Total U.S. wheat purchases now conservatively reach $700 million per year, more than 10 percent of total U.S. wheat exports. Japan imports significant amounts of hard red spring (HRS), hard red winter (HRW) and SW wheat for use in domestic products.
The Japanese milling industry suffered less damage following the devastating earthquake and tsunami this March than the nation’s feed mill industry. Most of Japan’s flour mills are located outside of the region struck by the disaster. The biggest difficulty following the disaster and continuing today is the supply of sufficient electrical power to operate the mills at full capacity.