The largest importer of U.S. beef told Iowa producers that they expect reliable access to a steady supply of high quality U.S. beef. The issue came up at every importer meeting held during a recent Iowa Meat Trade Mission to Japan. Iowa beef producers Steve Rehder, Hawarden, and Connie Richards, Tingley, were on the mission, Feb. 14-20, 2015.

“During our schedule, we met with the high level executives of the four major Japanese meat companies and they all expressed interest in continuing to buy U.S. beef, even as the questions of price became part of the discussion,” said Rehder. “The question of reliable access to supply was prompted by the slowdown at West Coast ports. Each company literally led off asking questions about the port dispute that was limiting the U.S.’s ability to export chilled beef into Japan’s value added market.”

(A port agreement was reached shortly after the Iowans returned to the U.S. However, the extent of the slowdown has put shipping issues from those ports at least six weeks behind schedule.)

While the price of beef is challenging as the U.S. rebuilds its cow herd, U.S. beef has continually displaced Australian beef, which is the main competitor in Japan in recent years. “The Japanese business leaders that we met focused their discussions on the relationship we have maintained with them over several decades,” Richards said. “While we build more import opportunities by increasing our inventory at home, maintaining and strengthening our relationships will continue to be the means by which U.S. beef remains a significant consumer option in Japan.”

Japan continues to remain on top of the U.S. beef export list in both volume and value. The U.S. has continually captured additional market share there by exporting 183% of the volume exported just five years ago. Besides displacing the Australian product, beef consumption in the Japanese market is up 1.6% over the last five years.

“If we can maintain uninterrupted supply of U.S. beef to the Japanese market while reducing import tariffs through a successful Trans Pacific Partnership trade agreement, it will be a win-win situation,” said Matt Deppe with the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association. “It will grow market opportunities for the U.S. producer and establish even better price points for the Japanese consumer.”

During the mission, representatives from the U.S. Meat Export Federation outlined several consumer promotion events at various retail outlets for U.S. beef. These events are partially funded by the beef checkoff.

“It was interesting to me that while the Japanese consumer is very quality and price conscious, there’s a very strong interest by the older population as well as young families to purchase leaner cuts,” said Richards. “This trend is similar to what we’ve seen in the U.S. in the past decade and a demand we can certainly fulfill without sacrificing quality.”

“It was great to see how our Beef Checkoff investment in the U.S. Meat Export Federation opens up our opportunities even when we’re at home producing the product,” said Rehder. “U.S. beef exports to Japan alone added $66.45 to the value of a fed steer this past year. That’s a strong return on investment in my book any day.”

Rehder and Richards represent different areas of the beef checkoff program. Rehder is a cattle feeder from northwest Iowa, while Richards and her family have both a cow-calf operation and a small feedlot in southwest Iowa. Both serve as directors on the Iowa Beef Industry Council and were part of an Iowa trade team that included representatives from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association, the Iowa Pork Producers Association, and the U.S. Meat Export Federation. Partial funding for the trade mission was provided by the $1-per-head beef checkoff.