Noodle wheat segregation celebrates 30 years of market success
A celebration was held recently to pay tribute to the pioneers of Australia’s first speciality wheat market, as the WA grains industry and Japanese dignitaries gathered to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the Australian Noodle Wheat (ANW) segregation in Perth.
Local growers supply nearly all the wheat to the ANW segregation, about 850,000 tonnes per annum. About 60 per cent is exported to Japan to be made into white, salted udon noodles – worth more than $250 million annually to the State economy.
WA remains the sole ANW supplier to the Japanese market, while the other 30 per cent of the segregation is exported to South Korea.
The segregation – which remains a rare phenomenon in the industry, where most wheat is exported as a bulk commodity – can command a market premium of $20-100 per tonne, depending on market conditions.
This important grains market had its origins with the former Department of Agriculture in the early 1970s, when wheat researcher Jack Toms visited Japan and identified that the WA wheat variety, Gamenya, had suitable noodle wheat characteristics.
Department cereal chemist Graham Crosbie later recognised that a separate wheat pool would be needed to satisfy the strict Japanese quality requirements for udon noodles.
Dr Crosbie called on the then Australian Wheat Board to create a segregation – which was quite controversial at the time – and the first pooling was introduced for the 1989/90 season, with permanent pooling agreed to three years later for the varieties Gamenya and Eradu.
The move was supported by a group of interested farmers, who formed the WA Noodle Wheat Growers Association (WANGA), led by John Hawkins and later John Carstairs, to educate and encourage local production.
Satisfying customer requirements
Despite significant changes in the grains industry since then, the State Government continues to support this enduring trade relationship.
The Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC), an initiative of the State Government and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC), works closely with Japanese noodle wheat customers and government officials to ensure satisfactory supplies and blends.
Since 1989, 13 highly trained Japanese noodle specialists have visited Australia to help assess unreleased wheat varieties that have been purpose-bred for Japanese udon noodles, as part of a sensory panel run by AEGIC in collaboration with the Japan Flour Millers Association.
This panel tests noodle samples made from WA wheat for colour, texture and the highly coveted springy ‘mochi mochi’ mouth sensation that characterises udon noodles.
Noodle wheat breeding has evolved over the years, with the WA-based cereal breeder - InterGrain, producing four improved varieties Supreme, Zen, Ninja and Kinsei.
InterGrain, also co-owned by the State Government and the GRDC, has an ongoing program to examine germplasm with increased diversity to develop new, enhanced noodle wheat varieties.
ANW is estimated to account for about 14 per cent of 2019-20 wheat plantings, down on 2018 due to seasonal conditions, with most sown in the Geraldton, Kwinana and Albany zones to Zen, Ninja and Calingiri.
WA grains investment and advancement
WA is the nation’s biggest wheat producer, exporting 6.5 million tonnes in 2018 worth $2.2 billion to the State economy.
DPIRD is committed to supporting the WA grains industry to grow and thrive, through a program of investments in crop agronomy, genetic improvement, soil management, crop protection and farming systems research.
The department works closely with the Grower Group Alliance, which received $4.38 million in July from the State Government to assist its 44 group members to identify and solve real world problems that lead to significant farm business and industry innovations.
Our staff are about to harvest a program more than 70,000 research plots in over 350 field trials across the grainbelt, all to help advance grains production in WA.
Many of these trials have co-investment from the WA Government’s long-time funding partner, the GRDC.
These are exciting times for the WA grains industry, which is embracing new technology, new farming systems and business models to lift production and profitability.
As always, the department is working side-by-side with growers and industry – with our expert staff, world-class research facilities and collaborations – to drive sustainable growth and opportunity.
For more information email Nicole Kerr, General Manager – Strategy & Communications, AEGIC, Perth.