Come October, bakers from all over the Republic of China will coverage on Peking to attend classes in a $1.5 million model bakery, where they will learn how to convert wheat into tasty western-style breads, biscuits and pastries.
Not long after that will come a model noodle factory. As the Chinese learn new baking and wheat-processing techniques, a camper van equipped with an oven and baking equipment will be going from town to town in the Philippines, teaching natives how to be better bakers.
Other similar vans are ticketed for similar tasks in Mexico and Indonesia.
In Taiwan, bakers attend special classes and study their craft by correspondence courses in Chinese.
There are two connections between these events. They are financed in part by American wheat farmers and they are aimed at stimulating foreign taste and demand for wheat. Especially American wheat.
With this year's U.S. harvest projected to hit record levels and with the government facing the prospect of paying farners $400 million or more in target price subsidies for unsold wheat, everything counts in the fight to expand world markets.
The farmers' effort is carried out by U.S. Wheat Associates, a little-known organization financed in part by wheat growers, in part by the U.S. government and in part by 92 countries around the world where the American wheat-promotion campaigns are carried out.
All 92 countries are customers or potential customers of the United States, which accounts for about half of the wheat sold globally. U.S. farmers last year sold roughly $4 billion worth of their $9.4 billion wheat crop abroad. This year's looming record crop means more work for Wheat Associates.
Wherever there's a possiblity that American wheat may find a buyer, Wheat Associates pushes programs of the sort established in China, Taiwan and the Philippines. For Japan and the European nations, the programs tend to be technical. For the developing nations, they are more basic, how-to-bake, how-to-mill programs.
The U.S. Feed Grains Council, also grower-supported, does similar work in the effort to open overseas corn and soybean markets.
Wheat Associates (USWA), with a $10 million budget this year, was formed in early 1980 with the merger of Western Wheat Associates and Great Plaines Wheat, separate market promotion organizations sponsored by farmers. The marriage has caused some strains between the states and board members faithful to the predecessor groups' differing philosophies, but the general promotional effort goes one.
About $2 million of the USWA budget comes from wheat farmers, who contribute with per-bushel checkoff fees through state associations. Another $4 million is provided by Department of Agriculture contract for market development, and the balance comes from the countries where Wheat Associates works.
Through its network of offices here and in 11 world capitals, Wheat Associates keeps a collective ear to the ground -- not just toward starting instructional programs or whetting alien palates, but also in helping present and former customers remember that American wheat can be delivered on demand.
India, for example, declared self-sufficiency in wheat in 1976 and left the world market. But Wheat Associates kept its office open in Delhi, waiting for the inevitable time when India would agin need to buy wheat abroad.
"We knew they wouldn't forever stay out of the market," said USWA president Larry Montgomery. "We maintained our services there, when Australia and Canada didn't."
In early June, the first hint of big things to come was heard. Officials from the Indian Embassy telephoned with some very elementary questions about the way American wheat is traded, graded and shipped. Last week, less than two months after those first tentative calls were made, India shelled out about $300 million in cash for 1.5 million metric tons of wheat.
India plans to buy more, but its trade officials here won't say how much they will seek or when. Chances are that India will buy its wheat here. Its buyers were squired around to U.S. ports and trading centers to get a sense of the quality and availablity of wheat. Then Wheat Associates helped them put together their bids.
All around the world, Wheat Associates is doing similar things, attempting to persuade buyers that U.S. wheat is the way to go in feeding hungry masses, changing dietary habits, improving nutrition generally.
The model bakery, the model mill and noodle factory in China are an example. The People's Republic, Wheat Associates and the Department of Agriculture will jointly spend about $10 million in the next four years on these projects. Four Chinese master bakers spent the past year in Manhattan, Kan., learning the new skills they will teach. On the way home, they stopped in Tokyo for a quick course in doughnut-making.
The idea, of course, is to show the Chinese what can be done with American wheat. The same thing occurred earlier in Japan and Taiwan, where the U.S. wheat farmers mounted campaigns to start school-lunch programs. "That is the first step toward having sandwiches," said Montgomery.
Wheat Associates claims, through promotion campaigns of the last 20 years, to have turned Japan into the United States' "largest single and most consistent buyer," in Montgomery's words. It began 20 years ago when Western Wheat gave away loaves of bread from mini-vans traveling the streets of Tokyo. Sixty percent of the 5 million tons of wheat Japan imports this year will come from the American granary.
Although trade has lagged since President Carter's partial embargo on grain shipments to the Soviet Union, Wheat Associates has continued to hold its bait in front of the Russians. The ogranization has pelted the Soviet Union with proposals for providing new wheat marketing and quality-control programs, looking toward a day that trade picks up. "We're doing all we can to reopen the door to Russia," Montgomery said.
Montgomery and USWA reject some critics' claims that the emphasis on wheat market promotion -- and more production -- in the end creates excessive strains on U.S. soil and water resources and "hooks" alien palates on imported wheat, diverting revenues from agricultural development to overseas expenditures.
"We may not be hooking them," Montgomery said, "for many countries move from their traditional corn and rice base to wheat and then back to meat, away from wheat . . . We see the developing countries move to wheat and then out of it.
"China, for example, buying more than 14 million metric tons of wheat this year and last, has diverted some of its wheat land to other crops they can export for hard currency. They move to labor-intensive crops that give them a higher per-acre dollar return than wheat." he said.
Wheat farmers' problem for now, however, is finding a way to get rid of another projected record crop coming on top of other record crops since 1978, a time during which U.S. production has increased by slightly more than 1 billion bushels.
Congress and the Reagan White House are battling over the terms of a 1981 farm bill and how it should be tailored to provide support and encouragement to wheat producers, among other growers, who are caught in a cost-and-profits squeeze. The current federal price-support loan for wheat is $3.20, while USDA calculates production cost at $5.35.
"We're expanding production in excess of the export possiblities," said Carl Schwensen, executive vice president of the National Association of Wheat Growers. "Our production again will outstrip demand this year. . . . Farmers can't just sit on their wheat. That's why the loan rate should be higher."
In its effort to curb federal budget expenses, the administration is supporting only slightly increased loan rates and opposes the system of target-subsidy to farmers based on their production expenses.
That battle is yet to be fought and settled by the House and Senate, whose agriculture committees have rejected the administration's approach. All of which points to more headaches for Wheat Associates, looking for ways to attract foreign buyers to the American grain.
"This 1981 situation gives us real motiviation to look for more markets," said Montgomery, which may go down as some kind of understatement.