Wheat farmers from Minnesota, Idaho, Oregon, and Washington visited Japan and South Korea in March 2016 to develop a deeper understanding of those Asian markets. The trip was sponsored by U.S. Wheat Associates, an export market development organization for the American wheat industry. The trade team got the opportunity to meet with Japanese and Korean government officials, millers, bakers, and others involved in the grain trade. The trade team also took time to address Japanese and Korean consumers’ concerns over the quality of crops, including GMO issues, and discussed why it is important to plant varieties that are not only high-yielding, but also high-quality.
The United States is among the top wheat producers globally and almost 50% of US wheat is exported. Though Japan and Korea are known for rice-based diets, consumers in the two countries in fact eat more wheat than rice. In 2015, Japan imported over 3 million metric tons of wheat from the US and South Korea also imported over 1.2 million metric tons. The two countries’ large wheat demand accounts for almost 20% of total US wheat exports.
Rising demand in the Japanese and Korean markets also stimulates agriculture trade and business ties in the states represented on the recent trade mission. Minnesota, as the 5th largest agricultural exporting state in the US, sent 13% of its total $7.35 billion in agricultural exports to Japan and Korea combined. Wheat is the second largest agricultural export of Idaho, valued at $392.3 million in 2014, with Japan accounting for 6% of its exports. Two-thirds of all of Washington’s agricultural exports go to Asia, and ships leaving Washington can arrive in key ports such as Tokyo more than a day sooner than ships the depart from California. The state’s organic products are in particularly high demand in South Korea. In addition to its wheat exports, Oregon’s agricultural exports to the region include fresh blueberries going to South Korea, reaching 1.4 million pounds in 2014, thanks to an agreement under which Oregon is the first and only US state allowed to send blueberries there.
Zhengqi Wang is a Research Intern at the East-West Center in Washington and is a student at American University.