A team of four prominent Japanese tofu makers recently toured three U.S. states, including Iowa, to gain a better understanding of the U.S. soybean production and handling systems. During the weeklong tour, they visited with farmers, processors and other members of the food value chain.
By bringing in top customers of U.S. food grade soybeans, tours like this help familiarize foreign buyers with the soybean industry in the U.S., including both soybean production and shipping, says Paul Burke, director of the American Soybean Association's Asia division. U.S. growers benefit as well because the tours help to maintain and expand the U.S. market share in the Japanese food bean market, he says. The U.S. now has a 55% market share in the Japanese food bean market.
"With the rise of Roundup Ready soybeans there is a concern in the Japanese market that perhaps the U.S. is not as committed to supplying the food grade soybean market," Burke says. "Part of our effort in this segment of the market is to reassure the Japanese processors that U.S. soybean producers and shippers are committed to supplying them for the long term."
During their September 5-11 tour, the tofu makers visited growers and suppliers in Iowa and Minnesota before touring Japanese-owned soybean processing facilities in California.
The team toured Iowa soybean grower Corwin Fee's farm near Knoxville. Fee, who raised food grade soybeans in 2003 and raised some non-genetically modified (GM) varieties this season, says it was a great opportunity for him to assure Japanese buyers that U.S. farmers have safeguards and measures in place for the production of food grade soybeans.