Relationship building, finding new markets critical to Indiana farmers’ success
BY DON LAMB, Director
Indiana State Department of Agriculture
As farmers, we know that trade is vital to our industry. We know that relationship building and finding new markets is crucial for our success. We know that the Indiana Corn Marketing Council and Indiana Soybean Alliance have entire teams devoted to this and spend checkoff dollars fighting to gain access to new markets.
But, until a few weeks ago, I didn’t know what that meant. What exactly is “international trade?” How does it work? How does one “find new markets?” And what exactly is a “trade mission?”
On Saturday, June 3, I boarded an Airbus flight destined for Tokyo. We left Indianapolis around 7:30 a.m., had a layover in California and landed in Japan at 11:30 a.m. the next day.
I was on the flight to Japan with the USDA’s Foreign Ag Service destined for an international trade mission. This trade mission was led by Undersecretary for Foreign Trade Alexis Taylor. Our flight was filled with USDA officials, business leaders from across the country and state department of agriculture directors from Kentucky, North Dakota, Nebraska, Maine and Wisconsin.
The goal? To see agriculture in Japan and how Hoosier farmers and producers can fit into Japanese markets.
We spent three days in Tokyo, and we were able to meet with business leaders and tour a vegetable farm, an orchard that specializes in peaches and cherries and participated in trade discussions with other attendees on the trip. We also met Mitsuru Takamiya, the President of Kewpei (similar to Kraft in the United States). We took the bullet train (traveling at 200 mph) to Osaka, which is a large port city, and there we toured an oil company that specializes in using products like soybean oil to make protein foods.
So, why Japan? Japan is an extremely important trading partner, as 62 percent of the calories consumed in Japan are imported. Of that, currently the United States provides 22 percent of those calories with our products.
According to the USDA, Japan was the fourth-largest export destination for U.S. agricultural products, importing $14.2 billion. The United States is Japan’s top supplier of agricultural goods, with a market share of 24 percent. According to USDA-NASS’s Indiana Field Office, Japan is Indiana’s third-highest export country behind Canada and Mexico, in that order. Annually Hoosier export more than $182 million worth of agricultural products to Japan.
So, what did we learn? Overall, the Japanese have a strong economy and a very hard-working culture. The Japanese people place a high value on quality and convenience over price almost always.
They shop quite differently than we do, most will go to the grocery store a few times a week because they do not have deep freezers or pantries like some in the United States do. Therefore, everything packaged needs to be in small quantities and easily carriable, which is quite different than our big box stores in the United States.
This was a firsthand experience into why international trade is so crucial and why finding new markets, like the Indiana Corn Marketing Council and Indiana Soybean Alliance do, is particularly important.