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Aspiring Iowa Ag Leaders Embark on Mission to Japan and Vietnam page banner

Aspiring Iowa Ag Leaders Embark on Mission to Japan and Vietnam

May 25, 2018


Members of the Iowa Corn Leadership Enhancement and Development (I-LEAD) program Class 8 traveled to Japan and Vietnam on an international trade mission in March to gain a greater understanding and appreciation of the global food system and to develop a deeper admiration for the views of U.S. agriculture’s international customers. The mission served as the capstone event as Class 8 wraps up their two-year program. Iowa Corn is now accepting applications for I-LEAD Class 9 at www.iowacorn.org/ilead. Iowa Corn developed the I-LEAD program in recognition that the future of Iowa agriculture depends on developing leaders who have a passion for agriculture.

 “It was a once in a lifetime opportunity,” stated ILEAD Class 8 Member TJ Page. “I would absolutely recommend it to anyone. I grew both personally and professionally from the experience. During the mission, we discovered how important agriculture is to each of these countries and what they import and export with the United States. We saw first-hand the work of U.S. Grains Council and the U.S. Meat Export Federation and how it translates back from the Iowa Corn Promotion Board’s investments.”

I-LEAD Class 8 began their journey in Vietnam with a briefing from a USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) representative about the importance of Vietnam to U.S. agriculture exports. Page said you could tell that Vietnam is a market ready to expand. “Outside China, it is one of the fastest growing economies, with additional economy prosperity, there will come an even greater need for protein. It is estimated that by the year 2050, Vietnam’s population will increase by 40 million and currently 60 percent of family income in Vietnam goes to food. They buy food daily and there is very little cold storage. There is also a huge market potential for U.S. ethanol. The sheer number of mopeds in South Vietnam was amazing. They cause 30 percent more emissions than a standard vehicle, and you see people wearing masks because of the air pollution. That’s a fantastic opportunity for cleaner-burning ethanol.”

Vietnam buys about $3 billion in U.S. agriculture products every year. Many expect that number to increase as the country’s population increases and the citizens gain more wealth. Vietnam has signed onto Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), so this will put the U.S. at a possible disadvantage with other competing countries importing to Vietnam. 

The class toured the Interflour port to see where bulk ships of imported grains offload into Vietnam. Vietnam buys about 8 million metric tons of corn and 1.2 million metric tons of DDGS every year. The class also visited an ethanol plant outside of Ho Chi Min City. In 2007, Vietnam passed an E5 ethanol mandate but has been in a trial period until 2018. The class also had dinner with grain buyers from Vietnam. They discussed the opportunities and challenges the grain buyers face when importing corn.

“The mission provided class members the opportunity to meet with grain buyers and explore the region’s food, feed and fuel needs,” said Iowa Corn Growers Association Director Roger Wuthrich, a farmer from Bloomfield. “We gained insights about their ethanol industry and opportunities to increase ethanol blends.”

Next, I-LEAD Class 8 traveled to Tokyo, Japan which currently has the 3rd largest GDP in the world, and a population of 130 million people. However, due to aging citizens, the population is expected to decrease to 90 million people by 2060. Japan also has a very open trade policy with trade agreements with many of America’s agricultural competing countries.

“We can learn a lot from Japan’s culture, the respect they convey to one another and the cleanliness of their cities,” explained Page. “History and culture are extremely important to the Japanese. It was important for us to get an understanding of the culture before meeting with Japanese companies.”

The class explored the AEON supermarket to understand how corn and meat products are sold in stores. Page said Japan shoppers recognize U.S. products on the store shelves and will pay more for quality products. He said U.S. products have a good reputation for quality there.

They then traveled to Yamanashi Prefecture and had a courtesy call with the Vice Governor. Following a typhoon that hit Japan in 1959, Iowa sent over hogs and corn to help the citizens of Yamanashi. The citizens, grateful for the aid, formed a sister-state relationship with Iowa which has lasted ever since. The class learned about this relationship on their visit. 

One of the final stops in Japan included a tour of an agricultural high school.  Half of the high school graduates will attend college and the other half will enter the workforce. “When team members showed the students photos of their farms, they were amazed at the size of their operations. We were impressed by their high-tech classrooms and their student-run ice cream shop business,” said Page.

While on the mission, class members blogged about their experience, you can view their blog at http://www.iowacornstalk.com/.

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Iowa Corn developed the I-LEAD program in recognition that the future of Iowa agriculture depends on developing leaders who have a passion for agriculture. Applications are available upon request and are due July 1, 2018. If you or someone you know might be interested, please contact Alyssa Johnston at ajohnston@iowacorn.org.  For more information, visit www.iowacorn.org/ilead.  


The Iowa Corn I-LEAD program is a two-year program to provide Iowa’s talented men and women with the tools they need to succeed as leaders and spokespeople for agriculture. The I-LEAD program is sponsored by the Iowa Corn Promotion Board (ICPB) and the Iowa Corn Growers Association (ICGA) because they recognize that the future of Iowa agriculture depends on the developing new leaders who share a passion for agriculture’s future. I-LEAD is a two-year program and class members come from diverse backgrounds but share a common commitment to the future of agriculture in Iowa.

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