U.S. dairy farmers build connections during trade mission to Southeast Asia

To sell more dairy products beyond our borders is the essence of why the U.S. Dairy Export Council (USDEC) was developed twenty-three years ago and recently four U.S. dairy producers doubled-down on that mission.  Marilyn Hershey of Pennsylvania, Brad Scott of California, Lowell Meuller of Nebraska and MMPA member, Cheri Chapin of Remus, Michigan, recently left their farming operations and travelled to Japan and Hong Kong to share the U.S. dairy export vision.

“While the USDEC Governance Mission to Tokyo and Hong Kong was exhausting, it was also exhilarating. We went to listen and learn, but we also taught and shared; it was a very reciprocal trip,” stated Chapin, who milks 700 cows with her family in Mecosta County.

Chapin emphasized the great need for dairy beyond our borders, “There’s a lot of world out there that needs U.S. Dairy. More than half of the world’s population lives in a circle within Asia that encompasses China, India, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Japan, and 14 other countries,” she said. “The people who live there need more dairy than their own countries can produce. I think the U.S. can step in and fulfill that need.”

Cheese consumption in the Japan compared to that of U.S. is strikingly lower. Chapin explained that Tokyo is a city of 37.5 million, 23 times bigger than Chicago, while Hong Kong is home to 7.2 million people. But looking at individual consumption, even as the world’s largest importer of cheese, Japan is behind the U.S. with a per capita consumption of 5.5 pounds. In the U.S. per capita consumption is more than 36 pounds of cheese.

“That means there’s a lot of room for growth! Hong Kong’s imports of cheese were up sixteen percent last year compared to 2016, which is great, but we can do better,” Chapin explained.

The week-long trip had a mission theme of “People, Partnerships and Programs.” They participated in meetings, receptions and taste testing opportunities, “We met some amazing people, including USDEC staff working on our behalf all over Asia. We also met with Dr. Yukio Hattori, the original Iron Chef, at his school, the Hattori Nutrition College, where a “Cheese Course” is being developed. The U.S. Consul General, Kurt W. Tong, hosted a cheese and wine reception on our behalf, inviting local tradespeople to sample our superior U.S. cheeses. We shared our stories with everyone we met with, and they appreciated and were very interested in our families and farming practices.”

Chapin shared her personal story with an emphasis on family, “I shared that we are a centennial farm, and that farming is not a job, it’s a lifestyle.”

Chapin noted the people of Japan and Hong Kong have shown an increased desire for artisanal and American style cheeses, it’s just a matter of getting the U.S. cheese and other dairy products in there. One initiative targets the fitness industry through a whey protein subscription program.

MMPA Member Cheri Chapin checks out a U.S. cheese display at Aeon supermarket in Hong Kong. Photo credit: USDEC.

Marilyn Hershey of Pennsylvania said this mission comes down to one word: relationships.

“If we can secure and build stronger relationships in both Tokyo and Hong Kong then we will have accomplished what we set out to do. We need to work at our global relationships. We need to show people in other countries that the United States is serious about being their consistent supplier.” Hershey added, “The fact that we are bringing four dairy farmers to these markets shows people that it is more than just talk.”

While on the trip, the four dairy producers were able to witness the hard work performed by USDEC. Chapin explained, “We saw our USDEC personnel in Japan and Hong Kong working diligently and passionately on our behalf. They are forming much-needed relationships and partnerships through programming. They are determined to bring about “The Next 5%” in exports, and regain our number one Global Cheese Exporter status”

Hershey noted that, more than one out of seven milk tankers leaving American farms end up in products and ingredients sold in other countries, and she believes the best is yet to come.

Chapin is excited at the bright future of increasing dairy exports, “We’ve already seen an increase in our dairy exports, especially cheese exports, in 2018, and I think we are making great headway for the future.”

–Melissa Hart

This article was originally published in the January 2019 issue of the Michigan Milk Messenger. Subscribe »