CLAREMONT, Minn. — A group of Japanese pork and beef buyers have a better understanding of American agriculture thanks to a tour of Minnesota that included a stop at Bruce Schmoll’s farm south of Claremont.
The buyers, in Minnesota as part of a tour hosted by U.S. Meat and Export Federation (USMEF) in conjunction with the Minnesota Soybean Research & Promotion Council (MSR&PC) and Minnesota Department of Agriculture, met with industry leaders, including the Minnesota Board of Animal Health, Minnesota Pork Board Chairman Pat FitzSimmons, MSR&PC Director of Marketing Programs Sam Ziegler and a several exporters. The group also toured the Rancher’s Legacy plant in Vadnais Heights before stopping at Roger Toquam’s hog finishing site near Blooming Prairie.
The stop at Toquam’s and the event at Schmoll’s farm, who is treasurer for USMEF and a director for the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, left the buyers with a personalized look at Minnesota farmers. Joining Schmoll were severa; board members of the Dodge County Corn and Soybean Growers Association.
“They learned a lot about soybeans, about pork production and about the philosophies associated with our operations,” Schmoll said. “That goes a long way toward cementing our place in the Japanese market. It gives them a chance to see how passionate farmers are about the products we produce.”
The five buyers represent some of the largest supermarket and retail chains in Japan, which is a top importer of U.S. meats. Schmoll said it is important to educate them about how meat products are produced, and to understand what U.S. producers can better do to help its customers out.
The group started with a cooking demonstration from Mayo Foundation House Executive Chef Tim McCarty. Afterward, the delegation walked with Schmoll out to his soybean and corn fields to learn more about production. Schmoll answered questions for the group and offered the chance for the buyers to drive his combine and tractor.
“We are meat buyers. We did not have any experience in a corn field or soybean field,” said Shigenori Toda, general manager of food merchandising planning division of Aeon Retail Co., Ltd. “It was a good opportunity for us.”
Around a campfire and a few s’mores, the group talked about feed grain, food safety, pork prices and livestock production.
“We have questions from customers about feed — number one is about GMO,” said Youichi Nishimura, chief merchandiser of meat for The Daiei, Inc. “After seeing the fields, I have confidence to explain to the customer.”
Schmoll told the delegation that farmers have been growing GMO crops for nearly 20 years and explained some of the differences between GMO and non-GMO crops.
“There haven’t been any studies showing ill effects,” he said. “It just makes for a much better product overall.”
On the topic of feed grain, Schmoll told the group Minnesota soybean farmers concentrate on essential amino acids more than protein and oil. Minnesota and the northern states typically have higher concentrations of essential amino acids, which is positive for livestock production.
“It’s actually the essential amino acids that are important for growth,” he said. “If a hog producer can get that product to market quicker, it is cheaper to raise that hog, and meat prices should be cheaper.”
The group admitted to knowing little about essential amino acids but was open to learning more.
Takemichi Yamashoji, senior marketing director in Japan for USMEF, said the buyers will take the information back to their companies and to their customers, which is priceless for them. He said in Japan, one of the biggest issues the buyers face is lack of information.
For Schmoll, he said he hopes the visit helped arm them with information.
Before arriving in Minnesota, the buyers toured parts of Colorado. The group continued its Minnesota portion of the tour with a stop at Hormel Food plant in Austin, Minn., and with a stop at JBS in Worthington, Minn.
The MSR&PC oversees the investment of soybean checkoff dollars on behalf of the state’s soybean farmers. The council is governed by the rules of a federally mandated checkoff program that requires all soybean producers to pay a fee on the soybeans they sell. Funds are used to promote, educate and develop market opportunities for soybeans.