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Published July 31, 2013, 11:46 AM

Japan lifts wheat ban

Japan is buying U.S. western white wheat and soft white wheat again, which can only help American wheat farmers, a veteran wheat marketing official says.

By: Jonathan Knutson,

Japan is buying U.S. western white wheat and soft white wheat again, which can only help American wheat farmers, a veteran wheat marketing official says.

“It’s a positive,” says Jim Peterson, marketing director of the North Dakota Wheat Commission.

Japanese officials announced in late July that their country will resume its purchases. Japan quit buying after volunteer GMO wheat was found in a single field in Oregon in late May.

The Japanese decision came after a thorough review by Japanese officials of the ongoing U.S. Department of Agriculture investigation of the Oregon wheat field, according to U.S. Wheat Associates, which develops export markets for U.S. wheat.

Peterson and other U.S. wheat officials have said since the GMO wheat was discovered that their priority is retaining the trust of customers.

USDA says GMO wheat is safe to eat, but many consumers, both domestic and foreign, are wary of it.

The resumption of Japanese purchases doesn’t directly affect farmers in the Upper Midwest.

Most of the soft white wheat grown in Oregon and the rest of the Pacific Northwest is exported to Southeast Asia. Typically, exported soft white wheat is used for Asian noodles.

Hard red spring wheat, of which North Dakota is the leading U.S. producer, is used to make bread or to blend with other wheat to upgrade protein content or protein quality.

Still, the resumption of purchases by Japan, a major buyer of U.S wheat, is an important step for overall wheat exports, Peterson says.

U.S. wheat prices have struggled recently, in part because of an expected rebound in U.S. corn production, which is hurting the price of other commodities as well, Peterson says.

“Now, as we’re entering the new-crop harvest situation, to be firing on all cylinders on all (export) markets is what you need,” he says.

He praised USDA’s efforts to discover what happened in Oregon.

USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service, which is investigating the Oregon field, said July 29 that its findings continue to indicate that the GMO wheat is confined to the single field.

More information on the APHIS investigation: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/newsroom/2013/07/ge_wheat_update.shtml

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