Courtesy of Idaho Wheat Commission
High level executives from the major wheat purchasing and flour producing operations of Wilmar International, and its operations in Singapore, Vietnam and Indonesia, toured the region Aug. 9-16. Wilmar is Asia’s leading agribusiness group.
The tour included meeting with farmers, grain elevators, traders and researchers in Idaho, Oregon, Washington and Montana.
Genesee, Idaho, farmer Joe Anderson, a board member of the Idaho Wheat Commission, said he hoped to show the team the quality of the region’s wheat crop.
“Every time we bring (existing and potential customers) out here on a tour, it helps us educate them as to the production and transportation system that feeds their market,” Anderson said. “I think we show them a pretty impressive distribution and marketing chain that helps them realize there’s a lot of quality product to be had out here.”
During a summary session, Wilmar executives told U.S. Wheat Associates representatives the area’s wheat breeding programs and facilities are impressive, including the farmer investment in developing new wheat varieties.
“They said, ‘Now we understand how and why you have high-quality wheat,’” said Steve Wirsching, director of the West Coast office for U.S. Wheat in Portland. “It’s not just a slogan and it doesn’t happen by accident.”
Southeast Asia represents 40 percent of the market for wheat exports produced in the Pacific Northwest, Wirsching said.
“We see good economic growth overall, and solid population growth — two factors that lead on to some positive growth for wheat imports,” Wirsching said. “Ten to 20 years from now, they’ll be the big markets for our products.”
Anderson learned from tour members that Vietnam is not able to directly import wheat from the U.S., but can import flour. They must run the wheat through a flour mill in China, Indonesia or other locations, he said.
“There’s a real good chance that will change shortly,” he said. “This may help them be more efficient and cost-effective in their marketplace, if they can bring in our wheat directly.”
Wirsching said recent problems related to fumigation and trade have occurred in Vietnam, but are close to being resolved. Teams and groups like the Wilmar tour raise awareness and create internal pressure to resolve problems in a business-like manner, he said.
“This is a tremendous opportunity for us, and I appreciate the fact that the farmers, during their harvest, during their busy time, went out to meet them,” Wirsching said of the tour.
Members of the tour rode a combine on Anderson’s farm. He saved a field for harvest for the visit.
Anderson also joined the tour for several dinners during their time visiting Idaho.
“I think it’s easier to do business with people that we’re comfortable with on a social level, as well as on the business side,” Anderson said.
Thirteen trade teams are scheduled to visit in 2017, and 11 have or will go through one or more of the Pacific Northwest states, according to U.S. Wheat Associates. Teams are typically in the U.S. for one to two weeks, and visit two to five states.