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Japanese Bakers Visit North Dakota to Assess Wheat Crop

by ND Wheat

Posted on 8/28/2017

The North Dakota Wheat Commission (NDWC) will be hosting a group of baking company executives this week from Japan. The team members represent some of the largest baking companies in Japan and all are members of the Japanese Baking Industry Association. The team will be led by Wataru "Charlie" Utsunomiya, Director of the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Tokyo office.

The primary goal for the team is to gain base knowledge of U.S. wheat production, breeding efforts, and quality so that they have a better understanding of the U.S. grain system and the advantages it affords to customers around the world. According to Erica Olson, NDWC marketing specialist, face to face visits like these are important in building customer relationships. "Opening communication and developing relationships and mutual reliance between U.S. wheat growers and Japanese bakers is necessary. Japanese customers are generally satisfied with the quality of U.S. wheat, but since bakers are one step removed from the wheat procurement process, it is important for them to develop a more complete understanding of the value U.S. wheat provides in both quality and reliability," she says.

While the Japanese market is not new to North Dakota producers, most trade teams are comprised of milling companies and their quality or procurement staff. Having the baking representatives presents an opportunity to educate the final end-user, and show them all sides of the industry from farm to export, hopefully driving demand for U.S. origin wheat from the mills. Japan currently imports approximately 185 million bushels of wheat each year, with the U.S. supplying about 55 percent of that demand. For more than 50 years, the country has been a consistent customer with high quality requirements. The largest class of wheat imported from the U.S. is hard red spring wheat, with average annual purchases of 40 million bushels.

During their visit to North Dakota the group will meet with NDSU researchers associated with the spring wheat breeding and quality labs, receive a wheat supply and demand outlook from NDWC staff, and visit the Northern Crops Institute. The team members will also have a chance to visit with NDWC producer board members. "With this team being from the baking industry, they are not as familiar with the wheat production process, so having an opportunity to visit with producers will be a highlight for them," says David Clough, NDWC Chairman. "It will also be a chance for us to discuss their wheat quality needs, as well as discuss the impact of this year's drought on a large portion of the U.S. HRS production region. While customers have expressed concern about lower supplies and price uncertainty due to the drought, initial quality looks very good in most areas, a plus for buyers and producers," he adds.

In addition to visiting North Dakota, the U.S. Wheat Associates sponsored team will travel to Portland, OR before heading back to Japan.