BOISE — Taiwanese leaders’ Sept. 20 signing of a “letter of intent” to purchase 66 million bushels of U.S. wheat over the next two years was much more than a ceremonial pledge, Idaho wheat industry leaders said.
Taiwan’s annual purchases of U.S. wheat are extremely vital to the state’s wheat industry and about 200 Idaho farms are in business because of that, said Idaho Wheat Commission Executive Director Blaine Jacobson.
The Port of Portland handles about half of all U.S. wheat exports and about 10 percent of those exports are to Taiwan, Jacobson said.
About half of Idaho wheat is exported, most of it through Portland.
Given those numbers, Jacobson estimated that 5 percent, or 5 million bushels, of all Idaho wheat is sold to Taiwan.
“Your business is keeping about 200 farmers in Idaho in business. That’s a big deal,” he told Taiwanese officials during a ceremony at the Idaho Capitol, where Taiwanese and Idaho officials signed an agreement that says the Taiwan Flour Mills Association will buy 1.8 million metric tons of U.S. wheat in 2018 and 2019 combined.
That combined purchase will be worth an estimated $576 million and “a very good portion of that procurement will be from the wheat farmers of Idaho,” said TFMA Chairman Tony Chen.
Jacobson also estimated that Taiwan’s annual U.S. wheat purchases are keeping 800 farmers in the Pacific Northwest — Idaho, Oregon and Washington — in business.
A Taiwanese agricultural trade delegation visits the U.S. every two years to sign the agreement in several wheat-producing states.
Although the signings occur every two years, members of Idaho’s wheat industry weren’t just going through the motions when they traveled to Boise for the 2017 event, said IWC Vice Chairman Bill Flory, a North Idaho farmer.
Idaho’s farmers wanted to make sure the Taiwanese trade delegation understood how much the state’s wheat industry appreciates their relationship, Flory said.
He was one of four IWC board members and farmers who traveled from different parts of the state to attend the event in Gov. Butch Otter’s office.
“This is a big deal,” he said. “The growers of Idaho appreciate this beyond description.”
Chen said Taiwan has other options around the world to purchase wheat but prefers to buy it from the U.S. because of the high quality.
Flory pledged that Idaho would do its part in continuing to provide Taiwan a high-quality product.
“This commission and other Northwest commissions are serious about quality. That’s not going to change,” he said.
The 66 million bushels of U.S. wheat the TFMA has pledged to buy in 2018 and 2019 is 4 million bushels more than it agreed to buy during 2015.
Otter, a rancher and farmer, said it was important for the state’s wheat industry to continue to deliver on its commitment to provide the high-quality wheat Taiwan is looking for and in a timely manner.
“It’s been great to watch this relationship grow, (and) it’s because we kept our promise,” he said. “We delivered on everything we said we would. And, by the way, so has Taiwan.”