More ports may ship noodles

Claire TyrrellCountryman

Japan is looking to alternative WA ports to supply noodle wheat this year.

This has opened an opportunity to export the grain from Geraldton port for the first time.

Delegates from Chiba Flour Milling and Sumitomo visited Geraldton the week all hell broke loose in Japan to gauge growers’ intentions to plant noodle varieties.

Japan sources close to one million tonnes of noodle wheat from WA each year to supply its udon noodle market.

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Emerald grain merchant Dick McCagh said the critical shortage of noodle wheat last year prompted the Japanese visit.

“WA noodle wheat production last year was 460,000 tonnes,” he said.

“Because of the drop in production the Japanese were here to see if WA growers are going to continue to grow noodle wheat.”

Mr McCagh said the earthquakes in Japan were likely to impact noodle wheat exports in the short term, but future demand would compensate for this.

“There is some damage to the ports in Japan, so they will probably hold back on imports in the short term,” he said.

“We expect them to ramp up noodle wheat imports later in the year.”

He said the flour mills used to process WA noodle wheat remained intact after the earthquakes.

WA growers had been deterred from growing noodle wheat in recent years because of the price deficit compared to Australian Premium Wheat (APW) varieties.

Last season the price of noodle wheat soared to more than $500 a tonne, compared to $360 a tonne for other wheat varieties.

Mr McCagh said the price premium was likely to level out this year, but farmers would still receive more for noodle wheat.

“We are now looking at a premium of $15 to $20 a tonne above APW,” he said.

Last harvest, grain marketers changed the export specifications of noodle wheat to keep up with Japanese demand.

Mr McCagh hoped the proportion of APW in the noodle wheat blend would return to original standards this year.

“Last year we changed the ratio from 60 per cent noodle wheat (and 40 per cent APW) to 70 per cent APW and 30 per cent noodle wheat,” he said.

“We think the plantings will be up about 10 per cent this year and that should be enough to go back to the 60/40 blend.”

Mr McCagh said Kwinana was the primary WA port from which Japan sourced its noodle wheat. There was one noodle wheat shipment out of Albany last year.

He said the shortage of noodle wheat from around the State prompted Japan to look to alternative ports to supply their market.

“Part of the issue is the Calingiri noodle wheat variety mainly grown in Geraldton is not favoured by the Japanese, but now they are looking at it as an option,” he said.

The Japanese like their noodles to be creamy in colour, but Calingiri wheat makes a very white noodle.

“If we can get the quality right, the Japanese would like to ship noodle wheat out of Geraldton port and possibly more out of Albany,” Mr McCagh said.

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