MANILA, PHILIPPINES — U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) celebrated 50 years of partnership with Filipino flour millers, bakers and noodle manufacturers at a reception and dinner in Manila, Philippines on Feb. 9.
USW representatives, U.S. wheat farmers and U.S. diplomatic and agricultural officials joined about 150 guests at the Makati Shangri-La Hotel to honor their customers in this developing island nation of 94 million people.
“Few markets have shown such consistent loyalty to U.S. wheat,” said USW Assistant Regional Director for South Asia Joe Sowers, who served as master of ceremonies. “It is that loyalty that keeps the Philippines a top priority for USW and the wheat farmers we represent. Over the past five decades, we have provided you with transparent market intelligence and useful technical information to help improve the profitability of your businesses. In return, you have rewarded us with increasing wheat exports from 200,000 tonnes in 1961, when we opened our office in Manila, to nearly 2 million tonnes and a U.S. market share that exceeded 90% of milling wheat imports in 2011.”
Today, the Philippines is the second largest importer of soft white and hard red spring wheat in the world. The 12 Filipino flour milling companies have recently imported an average total of 1.7 million tonnes of U.S. wheat per year. The Philippines imports more wheat than any other U.S. agricultural product, with a value of more than $500 million in three of the past four years.
Senior Agricultural Counselor Phil Shull with the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Foreign Agricultural Service introduced Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy Leslie Bassett, who suggested that people from the U.S. and the Philippines share an appreciation for all that wheat means to their families, to communities, businesses and consumers.
“I think the most remarkable thing in this room is all of you,” she said, “and the work that you have done for 50 years together to build this relationship, to sustain this relationship and to enrich the lives of everyone who benefits from it.”
USW Chairman Randy Suess, a soft white wheat farmer from Colfax, Washington, U.S., reviewed the positive effects of the partnership as he thanked the Filipino millers, bakers and noodle makers on behalf of the wheat farmers in the 19 state commissions that support USW activities.
“The Philippines has had a demand for wheat and we have tried to be a reliable supplier,” Suess said. “You have tried to focus on product development and we have focused on improving wheat quality and functionality. You have been concerned about healthy diets and we have worked with you to help promote consumer information and educational outreach.”
Norman Uy, senior vice-president of Republic Flour Mills, the oldest mill in the Philippines, also spoke about the shared faith and commitment of the industries represented at the celebration.
“It takes a great amount of faith for farmers to do their work,” Uy said. “They are hoping that the wheat grows and back in the Philippines we are also hoping that the wheat grows well. How can you not have faith when you are relying on a natural product?”
Uy also called for USW, flour millers and bakers to continue working together to help the wheat foods industry grow in the Philippines.
“Those who have been involved in this industry have created wealth. Our challenge is to share the wealth by creating more jobs — by supporting the down-line industries and by supporting the farmers back in the U.S. who originate our wheat,” he said. “A 50-year relationship requires commitment and if we don’t both have commitment backwards and forwards, there is no relationship. So thank you, USW, for maintaining that strong relationship from the beginning.”
Henry Ah, chairman emeritus from the Filipino Chinese Bakery Association suggested that the partnership need not change.
“Whatever has happened in the past 50 years, what we need tomorrow is same as in the past — to work together to develop more know-how in practical skills and commitment to growing our businesses.”
U.S. wheat farmers Steve Beedy, Limon, Colorado; Steve Claassen, Clarkston, Washington; and Bill Flory, Culdesac, Idaho, celebrated the 50th anniversary as part of a USW board team trip to Japan, the Philippines, Hong Kong and the People’s Republic of China.
David Clough, who farms in Fessenden, North Dakota, also participated as a representative of hard red spring wheat producers. These farmers each serve on their state wheat commission and Clough serves as a USW director. USW representatives included President Alan Tracy, Vice- President of Overseas Operations Vince Peterson, Regional Vice-President for South Asia Mike Spier, Director of Communications Steve Mercer, Bakery Consultant Roy Chung, Technical Consultant Boy Ng and staff from the USW Manila Office.