By MITCH LIES
SALEM -- An Oregon dairy industry executive found extensive market opportunities in Asia for Oregon dairy products in a recently concluded Gov. John Kitzhaber-led trade mission.
"The Asian market has very high potential," said Pete Kent, executive director of the Oregon Dairy Products Commission. "We're stepping cautiously, but moving forward optimistically."
Kent was part of a delegation of business interests that accompanied Kitzhaber and Oregon Department of Agriculture Director Katy Coba on the 11-day trade mission that returned on Oct. 25. The mission included stops in Tokyo, Hong Kong and Shanghai.
Oregon-grown potatoes, pears and wine also were promoted during the mission.
Kent said the dairy products commission decided recently to invest $34,000 of its 2012-13 budget to research foreign market potential. The idea, he said, was for the commission to act as a central resource to facilitate interest within the Oregon dairy industry in accessing export markets.
"Instead of creameries or processors taking five to seven years to figure out the export markets, maybe we can compress that time by pulling things together," Kent said.
When the invitation came from Coba to join the trade mission, the industry jumped at the opportunity, Kent said.
"This was a great opportunity that came along at the right time," Kent said. "Every meeting that was set up was very beneficial in terms of meeting brokers, talking to importers, port officials, grocery store managers."
Kent said market opportunities exist for products widely processed in Oregon, such cheeses and powdered milk, and for products not produced much here, such as shelf stable, or UHT (ultra-high pasteurized) milk.
"In some cases, we may have to retool and repackage a little bit," Kent said.
Given food safety concerns, the market opportunity for Oregon-produced UHT milk in Asia, and particularly China, is extensive, said Gary Roth, administrator of ODA's Agricultural Development and Marketing Division, who participated in the mission.
"Particularly with the situation that happened with Chinese produced dairy products in the past, the demand for products from outside China on the dairy side has only increased," Roth said. "With dairy products, having the U.S. source reputation is a good thing."
Food safety concerns also are prolific in Japan, Coba said, due to the March 2011 tsunami and nuclear disaster.
"They are very concerned about any food products grown where the nuclear disaster occurred and they are very concerned about food products from China," Coba said.
"In general, they view U.S. products as being very safe, and that is a huge issue for them right now," she said.
Kent returned from the mission convinced the new market opportunities in Asia could be a huge benefit for an industry hampered by fluctuating milk prices and high feed prices.
"If we can add 10 to 15 percent more business for a processor through a steady export initiative," he said, "than it is going to help both processors and producers in this state."