Farmers use their noodle and form export co-op

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Jenne BrammerThe West Australian

A group of farmers have joined forces to prevent WA from losing its $500 million-a-year export markets for noodle wheat.

The Noodle Co-op formed quietly a year ago after growers heard key customers in Japan and Korea were becoming frustrated at WA’s diminishing and inconsistent supply of wheat suitable for making udon noodles.

WA produces almost all of Australia’s noodle wheat but a 2015 industry report confirmed without intervention, customers could turn elsewhere.

The co-op is chaired by Shackleton grower and former Grains Industry Association of WA chairman Sean Powell.

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He said it was planning to grow its membership and beef up efforts to secure the future of the industry.

Mr Powell said though the wheat type suitable for udon noodle production was highly sought after and attracted a premium price, there had been a steady decline in the number of hectares grown and tonnes produced.

Noodle wheat is more risky to grow than other wheat varieties because the yield per hectare is typically lower, yet grain will not be classified as the higher-valued noodle wheat if protein does not fall within a certain window.

“Growers need a risk-adjusted return to make growing these varieties financially worthwhile,” Mr Powell said.

“We have developed an innovative way to get more money back into growers’ pockets, which would provide an incentive to grow more of these varieties and lead to the stable supply our markets desire.”

Under the co-op’s plans, WA noodle wheat would still be delivered and sold through existing supply chains, using current pricing mechanisms.

However, customers would also pay an extra amount to the Noodle Co-op, which would then be distributed among growers according to their production contribution.

This “extra piece of money” would be significant enough to warrant the extra risk involved in growing noodle wheat, and would fluctuate from year to year according to market conditions.

Mr Powell said members of the Noodle Co-op board had travelled to meet end buyers, including the highest government and industry representatives in Japan and South Korea, to discuss this solution. He hoped the proposed system would be agreed with buyers by the time farmers started planting next year’s crops.

The Noodle Co-op has also started investigating new market opportunities.

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