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Cattle producer sees market potential in China

Ashley Kohls speaks at WCCA meeting. Rae Yost/Stevens County Times

The potential for American beef sales in China is good, said Ashley Kohls, the executive director of the Minnesota State Cattlemen's Association.

Kohls was the featured speaker at the West Central Cattlemen's Association's meeting in Morris.

Kohls was part of a recent beef promotion tour in China and Japan. Producers from Minnesota, Nebraska and other states visited the two countries to promote beef as a food source.

While Japan is already the no. 1 destination for beef exports, there "is work that needs to be done in China," Kohls said.

"The potential to get beef into China is huge," Kohls said. "They are exactly where the Japan market was 25 years ago."

While the beef promotion group never left Bejing, the massive city is an example of the potential for beef exports to the country, Kohls said.

"If every person in Bejing alone ate one pound of beef that would be close to a 2 million increase in trade to Bejing alone," Kohls said.

Kohls said she and the other beef promoters spoke with bloggers, chefs, restaurant owners and others who influence consumers on food choices. Educating those key influencers and the public are important to expanding trade to China, Kohls said.

U.S. beef producers must help teach the Chinese of ways to use and cook beef, Kohls said. Most kitchens in China don't have large stoves or ovens and many people don't have private grills.

Beef producers and other organizations are working to install public grills at public parks so residents have a way to grill beef, Kohls said. A similar public grill system has worked well in Japan, Kohls said.

U.S. producers must also overcome China's viewpoint on the use of science in the U.S. beef industry, Kohls said. China is focused on intellectual property and if it doesn't "own" on science issues, it doesn't want the science in the country, Kohls said.

Politics is another obstacle. Officials who buy beef for various restaurants including Burger King and McDonalds buy most of it from South America and Australia, Kohls said. "The violatility in our politics is a reason why they don't import more U.S. beef," Kohls said. "President Trump was on the front page of every single newspaper everyday we were there (in Bejing)."

In contrast, Japan is already a big market for U.S. beef, Kohls said. Japan's geographic size means it must import much of the food it eats, Kohls said.

"Grilling is really a trendy thing right now," Kohls said.

The group attended a grill club's BBQ competition. Kohls grew up in a family that competed in BBQ competitions. She was happy to see the competitors using charcoal grills in the Japanese grill club.