Representing the Iowa Beef Industry Council, the Iowa Corn Promotion Board, the Nebraska Beef Council and the Nebraska Corn Board, the group began its activities June 23 with a briefing at the U.S. embassy in Tokyo and meetings with Japanese meat buyers, manufacturers and retailers. Team members met with more beef industry representatives on June 24, including importers, distributors and cold storage operators. USMEF also held a press conference and beef cutting demonstration that allowed the group to discuss current beef industry issues with Japanese broadcasters and trade reporters and to share their personal histories as family farmers and ranchers.
Alan Tiemann, a corn and soybean farmer from Seward, Neb., is representing the Nebraska Corn Board on the trade mission. He emphasized the importance of beef exports to the profitability of U.S. corn growers.
“As corn producers, we realize that the livestock industry is our No. 1 customer and that we need to be supportive of beef exports,” he said. “That’s something we have really set our minds to in Nebraska – understanding our largest customers’ needs and working together to move our industries forward.”
Tiemann added that it is very gratifying to see USMEF’s promotional efforts paying dividends in Japan.
“In the grocery stores, markets and restaurants where USMEF has promotions going on, U.S. beef is very well-received,” he said. “We see a lot of meat going off the shelves where they are doing promotions, and it’s been fun to watch those programs produce results.”
These observations were echoed by Terri Carstensen, a feedlot operator and grain farmer from Odebolt, Iowa, who is representing the Iowa Beef Industry Council on the trade mission.
“Everyone we meet with is very upbeat about U.S. beef,” Carstensen said. “At the in-store promotions that we’ve observed, there are long lines of consumers, especially mothers with children, tasting and purchasing U.S. beef. You could just see the faces of these consumers – young and old alike – really enjoying the flavor and quality of our product.”
She added that consumers in Japan are very pleased to meet face-to-face with the family farmers and ranchers who produce U.S. beef, and to have the opportunity to learn more about the products they are purchasing.
“We were visiting with some customers this week and their faces just lit up when they found out we were beef producers,” Carstensen said. “When I travel I carry a picture book that tells the story of our farming operation, and it’s great to be able to share information about the farm and how we raise our animals. The consumers found it very interesting, and I think they had to refill the meat case three times while we were there because they really took a great interest in our product.”
Both Tiemann and Carstensen feel relief from the 20-month cattle age limit on U.S. beef exports to Japan is needed in order for the market to reach its full potential.
“When we visited with the importers, grocers and meat buyers here in Japan, they were all in support of a higher age limit,” Tiemann said. “They could definitely utilize more U.S. beef if we are able to get that, so we’re hopeful that our governments will move this issue forward soon and then we’ll really be able to open up this export market.”
“Beef exports are so important to a cattle producer’s bottom line, and this is definitely restricting our supply and our ability to grow this market,” Carstensen added. “I can’t wait until we are finally able to have more beef moving to Japan, because consumers are definitely ready for it.”
Other producers in the delegation are Mark Jagels of Davenport, Neb., representing the Nebraska Corn Board; David Hamilton of Thedford, Neb., representing the Nebraska Beef Council; Merle Unkrich of Winfield, Iowa, representing the Iowa Corn Promotion Board; and Kevin Carstensen of Odebolt, Iowa, representing the Iowa Beef Industry Council. The group will travel from Tokyo to Seoul, South Korea, on June 25 before returning to the United States June 28.