ARLINGTON, VIRGINIA, U.S. — In the world wheat market, milling companies of all sizes can have an impact on wheat exports and purchasing decisions. This is certainly the case in Japan where mid-sized milling companies representing Japan’s National Cooperative of Millers provide input on the functional characteristics those millers need to meet customer demand to buyers at Japan’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF).

The U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) welcomed a trade team of four milling executives from mid-sized companies representing the co-op to the United States May 28 to June 4. USW collaborated with the Oregon Wheat Commission (OWC), the Washington Grain Commission (WGC) and the Montana Wheat & Barley Committee (MWBC) to organize and host the trade team. Funding for the trade team came from the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS).

“Japan will be the second largest buyer of U.S. soft white (SW) and hard red spring (HRS) wheat this year, which means no matter the size of the mill, it is important that these millers are familiar with the value of U.S. wheat and the U.S. wheat marketing system,” said Steve Wirsching, USW vice-president and director of the West Coast Office. “Japanese millers are always quality conscious and ask good questions about improving overall wheat quality and end-use functionality.”

The team began its trip in Portland, Oregon, meeting with the OWC, USDA Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) and the Wheat Marketing Center (WMC), to learn more about the U.S. wheat market.

Next the team traveled to Washington where they focused on research and breeding, transportation and SW wheat crop conditions.

During a tour at a barge loading facility, the team had an opportunity to visit the nearby dam and watch a barge and tug boat go through the lock and down through to the river.

“U.S. wheat growers rely on the river system to move their wheat,” said Mary Palmer Sullivan, vice-president of the WGC. “The opportunity to see the system in action demonstrated its importance and why periodic closures have to happen so improvements can be made.

Palmer Sullivan said that during a visit to the USDA Agricultural Research Service (ARS) Western Wheat Quality Lab, the team also spent time in the greenhouse, observing the wheat breeding process.

“The same traceability that we recognize as important to U.S. millennials, is maybe more important to Japanese consumers,” said Scott Yates, director of communications and producer relations at the WGC. “They want to know that their food was grown to the highest standard.”

While in Montana, the team shifted their focus to HRS wheat production and continued to meet with members of the supply chain. At the center of their schedule was a farm tour with Chris Kolstad, Montana wheat farmer, who showed them his spring and winter wheat production, equipment, grain bins, and explained how the technology he uses allows his farm to be more efficient.

“The team was curious about the new varieties we seeded and I shared with them that all of our wheat varieties are tested and proven before they are commercialized for farmers to use,” said Kolstad, who currently serves on the USW board of directors as secretary-treasurer. “Eighty percent of Montana grains are sent to foreign markets, so it is important to demonstrate the work we put in to growing quality wheat.”

Stephen Becker, outreach coordinator for the MWBC, added, “We are firm believers in the strength of personal relationships with our trade partners. These customers learn firsthand the knowledge our producers carry and the pride they have in producing a high-quality crop, which is important to keep in the forefront of the minds of those who make purchasing decisions.”

Ultimately the importance of relationships between U.S. wheat farmer and overseas customers is mutual.

“I think the opportunity to meet with U.S. wheat farmers and breeders is important,” said Shinjo Oda, president of Odazo Flour Milling Co. “From wheat breeding to the producer to the country elevator and to the shuttle train or barge, we have a better understanding of the overall flow of U.S. wheat industry.”