Agriculture is the U.S. state of Montana’s largest industry and foreign direct investment has had a lasting impact on production. The northwestern state’s $1.1 billion wheat industry has benefited from Japanese investments into grain elevators (facilities that include receiving and testing offices, weighbridges and storage areas) and growing demand from Japanese flour millers for high-quality Montana wheat.
“The Japanese market is a consistent market that doesn't ebb or flow a lot in times of higher supply and lower prices,” said Kent Kupfner, executive vice president of Montana Wheat and Barley Committee, the producer-funded checkoff organization for wheat and barley growers in the state.
“Economically speaking, (Japanese investors) have had a major impact on the Montana wheat and barley industry. They invested in shuttle-loading capability elevators. Those facilities can load 110 car trains in 15 hours or less. They're efficient and they can handle grain in a very efficient manner,” Kupfner added.
The Japanese partnership with Montana’s agricultural industry has also yielded collaborations between the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee and Montana State University (MSU) for the research and development of wheat varieties specifically for the Japanese market.
“We're very aware of the quality demands and use characteristics that the Japanese flour menu industry wants to see. Our breeders are well aware of the qualities that they need to breed into their varieties, whether it’s noodle making or specific end use like specialty breads. Collaboration between Montana Wheat and Barley and Montana State University research centers is also very important. Roughly half our budget goes directly to MSU to fund research for wheat varieties,” Kupfner said.