By Lynell Morgan
An Elgin woman’s culinary skills and first-hand knowledge of farming is helping influence the people of Japan to purchase more pork and beef products.
Gwen Beckman recently returned from a six-day educational trip to Japan to share and learn about ways to expand pork and beef markets in Asia.
She was part of the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) Heartland Team that traveled to the cities of Osaka and Tokyo Japan. It’s mission – to meet with representatives and, perhaps more importantly, Japanese consumers to learn about the country’s tastes and preferences in the U.S. beef and pork markets.
“The main purpose of our Heartland Team is to show U.S. producers the export market potential in Japan and how USMEF works to create demand for U.S. red meat and develop the Japanese market,” Dan Halstrom, USMEF president and CEO, said in a press release. “Japan is our largest market and, despite some of the trade challenges we’ve faced, the numbers continue to look very good. This year’s Heartland Team was able to see not only what we have accomplished as an industry but also what we need to continue to develop to keep export trends going in this same positive direction.”
The team, which included beef, pork, corn and soybean producers from Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Oklahoma and Idaho was able to observe USMEF marketing activities, study how U.S. red meat is being presented at the retail level and explore first-hand Japan’s domestic production.
One member of this year’s team (the 8th Heartland Team) was Elgin pork producer Gwen Beckman. Beckman spoke to The Elgin Review about the experience and several things that really made an impression on her about the Japanese market.
“The potential!,” she said. “There is huge potential (for increased markets). It’s a very competitive world market out there”. She was also struck by the Japanese consumer’s interest in where their food is coming from. “Traceability to the Japanese is very important, that’s why the producers were there,” she stressed. “They want to know our (the producer’s) story back here…they love to hear the story of the family farmer. They know that there is pride in it, there is care in it. That’s what they want to hear.” She added, “They are just amazed by it (the family farm) when they see the pictures of the space and they see the pictures of the little kids on the farm.”
Starting daily at 8 a.m. with briefings or meetings, they would then go out to see “anything that was meat oriented”, Beckman said.
Among the tours of “meat” sites was a Wagyu cattle farm. According to Beckman, the typical Wagyu cattle are fed out over a three year span, pampered and fed a diet of rice straw, whole crop sileage – and even some bread crumbs! These cattle produce intense, fat marbling which creates a rich flavor. Are you ready for this? The steak typically sells for $120-$200 a pound. According to Beckman, one pound of American beef tongue goes for a premium of over $6 in Japan.
Team members helped with some cooking demonstrations in front of a number of Japanese bloggers. Beckman donned a apron and helped demonstrate how to prepare U.S. backribs. It isn’t that they don’t know how to cook meats – it’s that, typically, meat in Japan is thinly sliced and boiled in stock, stir-fried or cooked on a hot plate. With the goal to shift part of their demand to thicker cuts of American meats, education on preparation is a must. If it isn’t prepared correctly, the consumer is less likely to try it again.
She said the team also found that, as Japanese consumers are becoming a bit more affluent, their food demands are changing. Since housing is a premium, a typical residence is small and has no freezer. Therefore, they have an increasing interest in ready-made meals. At the grocery stores, shoppers can find TV sets that tell about the food’s origin, ensuring safe and wholesome foods such as that provided by the American family farm.
The Beckmans are a “textbook” Nebraska family farm business. Gwen works with her husband Dave, her three sons and Dave’s brother John and his family. When asked about her years spent in the swine industry, she said she doesn’t know a time when they weren’t raising hogs.“I have never not raised hogs,” she said. “Dave’s family raised them, my family (Schindler) raised them. We’ve never gotten out of hogs. It’s been lifelong for us.”
The American producers serve a vital role on these trips that promote consumption of American ag products. The funds used to underwrite these trips come from several different sources. USMEF receives funds through the Market Access, Emerging Market and Foreign Market Development programs from the U.S. Department of Agriculture. It also receives funding and support from the Beef, Pork, Lamb, Corn and Soybean Checkoff programs.
As a member organization, USMEF is funded by its members which are drawn from beef/veal producers and feeders, pork producers and feeders, lamb producers and feeders, packers and processors, purveyors and traders, oilseeds producers, feedgrains producers, farm organizations and supply and service organizations.
Beckman was humbled to have this opportunity. “I feel very blessed to have had the opportunity given to me by the Nebraska Soybean Board to be part of the USMEF 2018 Heartland Team to Japan,” she said.
“The team learned that Japan is a HUGE export market for our American agricultural products with the potential for even greater demand on the rise! The USMEF, U.S. Grains Council, U.S.Soybean Export Council and the Nebraska Soybean Board, along with the other commodities checkoff programs, work very hard in fostering good trade relationships, keying in on consumer desires, researching and creating new markets for our American producers. Our checkoff dollars are hard at work! To me, that was very encouraging and affirming.”
If you are ever given this opportunity, say “yes”. As Gwen can attest, you’ll be amazed at how all these organizations are working hard for the American producer.