Pillen and trade group head to Tokyo on weeklong South Korea-Japan mission

By: - September 8, 2023 8:29 pm

Nebraska trade delegation, led by Gov. Jim Pillen, engages in a discussion with Korean leaders at a hydrogen roundtable event. (Courtesy of Governor’s Office)

LINCOLN — Gov. Jim Pillen and a trade-focused delegation are heading to Tokyo, the second leg of a visit to South Korea and Japan.

The group, which arrived in Seoul Tuesday, aims to promote Nebraska agriculture and ways to grow the state’s clean hydrogen sector. Included in the mission that is to continue through Tuesday are representatives from the state’s Departments of Agriculture and Economic Development, as well as commodity, ag and energy companies.

Gov. Pillen touts Nebraska meat products at Homeplus, a Korean discount retail chain. It is the second largest retailer in South Korea with 135 stores. During the visit, Pillen saw how Nebraska beef is marketed to consumers. (Courtesy of Governor’s Office)

“The people we have met are very interested in what we do agriculturally, especially in terms of how we raise our animals, the types of grain that we use and how we care for our environment,” Pillen said of South Korea. 

Wednesday, the group’s first full day of activity, included meetings with leaders of SK Inc., a global Fortune 500 company. According to a statement from Pillen’s staff, the delegation thanked SK for investing in Monolith Materials’ Hallam, a Nebraska facility that produces clean hydrogen. It touted the state’s new partnership with Iowa and Missouri as a Mid-Continent Clean Hydrogen Hub.

At a dinner in the city of Incheon, the ranchers in the group talked about sustainable, biosecure practices they use to produce beef. South Korea is Nebraska’s top international market for beef, buying about $580 million in 2022. Nebraska supplies more beef to South Korea than any other state, according to the statement.

 “One of the interesting things we learned is that appetites are changing in South Korea. People are increasing their intake of meat protein, and are eating less rice,” said Mark McHargue, president of the Nebraska Farm Bureau. “That opens a world of opportunity, in terms of what we can export.”

Thursday’s events included discussions with Korean leaders about opportunities with hydrogen energy. This year, Nebraska enacted the Nuclear and Hydrogen Development Act, which calls for the creation of a work group to determine related workforce and training needs.

“Advances in the energy industry will benefit Nebraska agriculture as we today, through our practices, feed the world and save the planet at the same time,” Pillen told roundtable participants. “Nebraska is uniquely positioned to provide less carbon-intensive fertilizers and increase food security regionally, domestically and globally.”

Jeff Rudolph, board member for the Nebraska Beef Council, noted meaningful interactions he had  concerning Nebraska beef.

 “It is remarkable as a producer, as a cattle feeder, to talk to South Koreans about the product they are buying and for them to realize that you are the person from Nebraska who supplied it,” said Rudolph. “That is a really meaningful interaction, one that we normally wouldn’t get to experience without being here in person.”

In Tokyo, meetings are to focus on ag sustainability measures and opportunities for trade and manufacturing. The group is to attend the Midwest Japan Association Conference hosted by Ambassador Rahm Emanuel.

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Cindy Gonzalez
Cindy Gonzalez

Senior Reporter Cindy Gonzalez, an Omaha native, has more than 35 years of experience, largely at the Omaha World-Herald. Her coverage areas have included business and real estate development; regional reporting; immigration, demographics and diverse communities; and City Hall and local politics.