When people think about food in Korea, kimchi, bulgogi, and bibimbap are likely to come to mind before Idaho wheat. However, a recent trip to Idaho for South Korean flour executives shows that wheat from the northwest is an unsung hero in Korean cuisine. In late July, officials from three South Korean flour companies completed a three-day trade mission in Idaho to learn more about the wheat that goes into their flour. US Wheat Associates, along with wheat commissions from Idaho, Montana, and Oregon, organized the mission, taking the flour executives to a variety of wheat farms and research facilities across southeast Idaho. The trip served to update the executives on the present state of Idaho wheat. They examined the quality, value, and pricing of different types of US wheat to help determine how they can most effectively match the preferences of the Korean market.
South Korea is a top-five importer of US wheat, with Japan being the only Asian country that imported more US wheat in 2017. From June 2017 through May 2018, South Korea imported about 65 million bushels of wheat, an increase of 14% from the previous year. The largest share of the imported wheat belongs to white wheat, which is commonly used in noodles and doughs. Much like in the United States, demand for white wheat has risen in South Korea, motivating US farmers to increase production. Trade delegations between international representatives like this help distributors and producers coordinate their goals and adjust production to better match the demands of consumers, information that each side would not have access to otherwise.
This trip is not the first case of farming bringing Idaho and South Korea together. US Wheat Associates organized a similar trip in 2016, sending wheat farmers from Idaho, Minnesota, Oregon, and Washington to South Korea and Japan to learn about those countries’ markets for wheat. Agriculture is a strong connecting force between South Korea and Idaho. Beyond wheat, increased Korean demand for cheese has made South Korea Idaho’s top dairy export partner, with $29 million yearly in dairy exports. This trade contributes to the total of $239 million in goods and services Idaho exports to South Korea that support almost 1,400 jobs in the state. Beyond economic exchange, Idaho and North Chungcheong Province in central South Korea share a sister partnership, inspired by their similar mountainous geographies with abundant farmland.
Luke Pluta-Ehlers is a research intern at the East-West Center in Washington. He is a fourth-year undergraduate student at the University of Chicago studying Global Studies and Geography.
[Image By Charles Knowles from Meridian Idaho, USA - Combine Harvesting Wheat, CC BY 2.0]