By Lynell Morgan
A recent US Meat Export trade mission to Tokyo Japan will hopefully payback with increasing meat exports if Japan continues its trend of importing Nebraska-grown agricultural products.
Anne Meis, the newly elected District One representative of the Nebraska Soybean Board, boarded a Labor Day-flight and found herself with other Nebraskan (and a few from neighboring states) delegates in the Land of the Rising Sun. The “mission” of the week-long mission? To visit with Japanese meat buyers and consumers and tout the benefits of Nebraska beef, pork, poultry and grain products as a part of the Japanese diet.
While the mission was a meat export trip, meats and grains go hand-in-hand when it comes to Nebraska ag producers so members of the corn and soybean board were a big part of the trip. So much so, that Meis said the soybean board helped out the pork board with the trip.
“The Nebraska Soybean Board sponsored the two pork people because we are tied so closely together,” she said. “We promote pork, the pork people are going to buy our soybeans. They are all linked together.”
Japan is a major player in Nebraska’s ag export market.
“They have a pretty robust economy,” Meis explained. “Their people are moving away from a rice and fish diet. They want American pork and beef. It’s actually being pushed from even the governmental level that animal protein is such an important part of a healthy diet. So every year, we saw graphs that show they are increasing their intake of animal protein.”
Geographically, Japan’s options are limited. “They are such a small island, they just don’t have the land to produce the meat that they want to consume,” she added. “They are a great market for our products.”
Who best to visit with in Tokyo about Nebraska’s great ag products than those who purchase the food that will go on their tables – the suppliers for grocery stores and restaurants and the consumers and food “bloggers” who help spread the word about the quality of these food products.
“We met with meat buyers…we were to put a face on — (that) this is who produces the food, the whole thing of, people want to know who their food comes from. We’re that face, we’re the one’s producing that high-quality product,” Meis said about their interaction with the Japanese people. “We went to some events where we were targeting consumers, the women who go to the market and buy because they said 90 percent of the women make the purchasing decisions in the super market,” she added. “There were food bloggers there and women who were consumers. They had a celebrity chef demonstrating the reasons that its (meat) good. We produce some of the safest food.”
It proved a valuable learning experience for Meis also in terms of how trading impacts every level of agriculture, right down to the small family farmer here in Antelope County.
“I learned a lot about TPP – Trans Pacific Partnership – and how important (it is) if we can get that passed and lower our tariffs to Japan and be able to compete with Australian beef and European pork on a more even playing field. Now, we pay 37-1/2% tariff on all our products that are coming in to Japan. It really puts our products at a higher price and makes it that much harder to market them,” she said.
The downside to the TPP, “if it passes, they’re paying a tariff on their end – their autos, their Sony tvs and all that. It would gradually lower their tariff over the next 10-15 years. Obviously, our automakers aren’t thrilled about it,” she noted.
To sum up the seven-day trip, Meis said “It was an amazing trip, we were treated royally and I learned so much. Our days were full and I just saw so much of the “bigger picture”. We work so hard here on our farm and we load up our product and we hope for a good price at the elevator but I saw how much there is on the other end to get that price at our local elevator – what it takes, how many people are working to keep that market established.
“Nebraska has rich land and many resources and we can grow the corn and soybeans to feed our livestock all within our own state’s economy. We’ve got to keep that market so we have someone to purchase our products,” Meis concluded.
Japan is Nebraska’s largest export market for beef, pork, eggs, corn and wheat.
Nebraska is Japan’s second largest supplier of beef, just behind Kansas and Nebraska is just behind Iowa as Japan’s major pork supplier.
By Lynell Morgan