Rethink on noodle wheat ratios

Haidee VandenbergheCountryman

Noodle wheat supplies have rebounded after last season's drought decimated tonnages.

In the 2010/2011 season about 500,000 tonnes of noodle wheat were delivered to CBH - less than half the amount required by key markets Japan and South Korea.

WA is the only supplier of noodle wheat to these countries, with noodle wheat generally blended with APW2 in a 60:40 ratio to make Japanese udon and Korean white salted noodles.

The drought forced both the Australian industry and its markets to drastically rethink the blend ratio, slashing it to 70 per cent APW2 and just 30 per cent noodle wheat.

CBH grain marketing manager Tom Puddy said an improved season for noodle wheat production this year has opened the door to return to a more normal ratio blend.

"The production of noodle wheat has increased with the overall size of the crop," he said.

"We're saying that it's about 10 per cent of the wheat crop, so about a million tonnes of production."

Department of Agriculture and Food (DAFWA) director of genetic and product innovation Robert Loughman said that in 2010, growers not only planted less noodle wheat, but tonnages were slashed because of the drought.

"We estimate that the typical requirements for noodle wheat production in WA equates to around 12 and 15 per cent of wheat area being sown to noodle varieties," he said.

"Going into the 2010 season, the predicted area sown to noodle varieties had dipped below 10 per cent and that together with the very hard season resulted in the critical supply going into that harvest."

The shortage of noodle wheat caused prices to soar above the $500 a tonne mark, which Dr Loughman said had encouraged growers to plant more this season, and returning the area planted to about 12 to 15 per cent.

"It was a clear indication that price relative to other wheat grades was an important driver for growers in this segment of the market and I think there's an increasing recognition in Japan that a more favourable price premium for noodle wheat is going to be an important feature of encouraging stable WA production for this market sector into the future," Dr Loughton said.

A delegation from the Japanese Ministry for Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) met with CBH, DAFWA and the Grains Industry of WA in December to reassess production, but Mr Puddy said at that stage only a small percentage of harvest had been completed.

"MAFF has agreed to continue to reassess the production and wait for further information once the harvest is completed," Mr Puddy said.

CBH is currently sending noodle wheat samples to flour millers in Japan and to MAFF to demonstrate the average quality.

Blend ratios of 30, 50 and 60 per cent noodle wheat are also being assessed for end use quality.

The results of those tests as well as a full crop report will be presented to MAFF and the Japanese Flour Millers' Association in the second week of February and Mr Puddy said CBH would be pushing for a return to the traditional blend ratio of 60:40.

"That's in the best long term interests of the growers," he said.

"MAFF are a little bit conservative, they're thinking a little bit more longer term and what happens if we have a drought next year. They're worried about having a buffer stock for next year… they're thinking more like a 50:50.

"Japan has a longer-term concern around food security and the industry is working with Japanese authorities and Japanese flour mills so we can maintain a sustainable supple chain to one of our key markets."

We estimate that the typical requirements for noodle wheat production in WA equates to around 12 and 15 per cent of wheat area being sown to noodle varieties. Robert Loughman, DAFWA

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