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Japanese flour mill executives tour U.S.

by: ERIC MORTENSON/CAPITAL PRESS  - Japanese flour milling executives are touring U.S. crop and export facilities this week. This years Pacific Northwest wheat crop, much of which will be exported to Japan, is growing reasonably well this spring.Executives with five of Japan's largest milling companies toured the U.S. recently, looking over the crop that will be harvested this summer and reviewing the American handling and distribution system.

The annual trip, which included a stop in the Portland area, comes a year after the discovery of genetically modified wheat growing in an Eastern Oregon field.

Japan, the biggest buyer of soft white wheat grown in the Pacific Northwest, sent a shudder through the market by suspending wheat purchases for about a month. The USDA's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service investigated but has not released its findings. Consumers in Japan, South Korea, Taiwan and other major markets are opposed to GMO food.

Despite that potentially edgy backdrop to the visit, American industry officials don't expect 2013's GMO wheat episode to be a major focus of discussion. Instead, the visit by top milling executives is a scripted affirmation of a longstanding business relationship. Mid-level company officials who visit later in the year are more likely to get involved in production and trade details, said Steve Mercer, vice president of communications for U.S. Wheat Associates.

"Japan is a very mature market," he said. "They're very structured in how they purchase wheat, very ordered."

"This group focuses on high-level issues," said Blake Rowe, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Commission. "They're not seeking detailed Pacific Northwest information."

While in the Portland area at the tailend of the visit, the group is scheduled to tour the new Export Grain Terminal at the Port of Longview. They were scheduled to make earlier stops in Washington, D.C., North Dakota and Nebraska.

Discussion topics during the group's stops were expected to include supply, demand, anticipated quality and price of U.S. wheat varieties. Research innovations, including bio-tech wheat, also were on the agenda, according to a U.S. Wheat Associates news release. Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, including market access for wheat and other crops, also were expected to be a discussion topic.