Urbanizing country requires high-quality ingredients

By SEAN ELLIS

Capital Press

Wheat industry representatives are hopeful that a recent 10-day visit by Chinese wheat buyers could result in increased export opportunities for U.S. growers.

The visit by Chinese executives from a grain trading company that holds the import rights for cereal and food grains was set up by U.S. Wheat Associates to provide them a greater understanding of how this country's wheat handling and export system works.

China is the world's top wheat producer but that country needs more high-quality, high-protein wheat to blend with its domestic wheat to help meet soaring demand for premium wheat products.

The trade team met with the Oregon Wheat Commission, Washington Grain Commission, Wheat Marketing Center, Chicago Board of Trade, and other groups and grain trading companies Oct. 19-28.

"They certainly liked our product," said Oregon Wheat Commission CEO Blake Rowe, who gave the group a presentation on soft white wheat in The Dalles. "It was a very positive meeting."

U.S. wheat exports to China have soared this year and industry officials see the visit as a great opportunity to position the domestic industry as a main supplier of high-quality wheat to China.

According to U.S. Wheat, the U.S. exported 303,000 metric tons or 11.2 million bushels of wheat to China from June to September, the first four months of the 2011-12 marketing year. During the same time last year, that total was 8,000 metric tons.

Urbanization and higher incomes in China are driving much of that country's increasing demand for higher-quality baked goods, said Steve Mercer, director of communications for U.S. Wheat.

Rowe and Glen Squires, vice president of the Washington Grain Commission, said the Chinese team was particularly interested in importing wheat via containers rather than bulk vessel shipments.

Rowe said this method of delivery is preferred by mills that aren't close to ports.

The trade team met with Washington growers near Walla Walla and Pullman and showed a lot of interest in club wheat, Squires said. He said Washington growers are discussing sending a couple of containers of wheat to Chinese millers so they "can see if it works on a commercial size."

To help encourage the growing Chinese market for whole wheat products, U.S. Wheat officials are providing Chinese flour millers and wheat food processors with personalized consultation.

Mercer said U.S. Wheat officials have demonstrated how U.S. soft white wheat can help maintain the bright white color preferred by Chinese consumers and how the stronger gluten in U.S. hard red winter or hard red spring wheat could address technical challenges with including the bran and germ in flour.

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