From US Wheat to a Sweet Japanese Treat

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by Savannah Shih
Japanese baking executives learn about the process of ensuring quality wheat. [Image: NDWC]

Sweet pastries and delicious breads are quintessential treats throughout Japan. To make these goodies, Japan imports most of its wheat, purchasing more wheat from the United States than any other country. The first delegation of Japanese baking industry representatives recently visited North Dakota to learn more about how American wheat is grown. In early September, US Wheat Associates (UWA) and the North Dakota Wheat Commission (NDWC) hosted executives from the four largest Japanese baking companies.

Though Japanese delegations of millers often travel to North Dakota, it is unusual for baking industry executives themselves to visit. Through their visit, the Japanese representatives were able to better understand the intricate process for producing high quality wheat and assess this year’s US crop. The North Dakotan farmers were equally eager to meet with the Japanese executives and learn what happens to their wheat after it is sent to Japan.

According to the NDWC, Japan already imports about 185 million bushels of wheat each year, with 55% coming from the United States. North Dakota’s exports to Japan are valued at $299 million annually and support almost 3000 jobs, with agricultural exports alone worth $286 million.

North Dakota also continues to expand its trade ties with other Asian nations, emphasizing the diversity of its products. A quarter of North Dakota’s exports already go to Asia. In 2013, Taiwan signed a two-year agreement to import $485 million worth of wheat from North Dakota. In 2014, a delegation from several Southeast Asian nations travelled to North Dakota to tour the farms that produce soybeans. That same year, North Dakota welcomed Japan’s easing of constraints on US beef imports, eager for new markets. In 2016, a trade mission of North Dakotan companies travelled to India for the first time ever, ready to highlight the quality and utility of their crops. Most recently, the North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner led a trade delegation to the Philippinesthis past May, focusing on organic and specialty crops. 

Savannah Shih is a research intern at the East-West Center and a graduate student of Asian Studies at the George Washington University in Washington, D.C.