Cameron keen to lift noodle profile

16 Jan, 2016 01:00 AM
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Being part of the ag industry I see that as really important aspect to WA

BEFORE WA Noodle wheat varieties are released to growers, Cameron Murdoch tests their suitability for the traditional Japanese Udon noodle.

As the cereal chemist for InterGrain, Cameron has been trained by a Japanese noodle master in the finer details of the delicacy.

He looks for colour, taste, elasticity and mouth feel texture in noodles made from the flour of early stage wheat variety breeds.

"It's one of those things, it's another bit of data that helps Dan Mullan, our wheat breeder, in addition to yield and disease resistance and the agronomics of it," he said.

"It gives him that extra bit of confidence in a line and I know it has saved at least one line he was going to cull, when we found it had really good Udon qualities."

It isn't all Udon noodle making and eating for Cameron, despite office jokes he should open up a noodle bar out of InterGrain's Bibra Lake office.

His role also encompasses the late stages of wheat breeding, covering the final three or so years of what is usually a 10 to 12-year process.

Cameron collects the data for classification of grain varieties, testing for falling numbers, protein, moisture and other important traits.

He acknowledges his role isn't the typical role in agriculture many people think of as a career prospect, or even related to the industry, admitting he fell into the role.

The University of WA science graduate had a focus on biomedical science while studying with a view to working in the area of pharmacology, drugs and diseases.

But on finishing university he gained a role in the CBH Metro Grains Centre lab in Forrestfield before moving to InterGrain in 2012.

"My rough idea was that I wasn't keen on a research role," he said.

"I've always loved the sciences and while research can be very interesting, I'm more interested in when science is used beyond research and when it affects the real world.

"This job has elements of that which I enjoy and I like being able to be part of something that leads to bigger results.

"With what I do there's the potential to lead to a new variety that will change everything for farmers - that sort of thing is very exciting and I'm glad to be a part of that story."

Cameron said agriculture had been on his radar as an option, but it isn't one many university students would consider.

"I had a rough idea that WA was primarily about mining and farming but I knew from the outset at uni I didn't have an interest in mining," he said.

"I felt back in 2007 the mining boom couldn't last and then I'd be one of thousands of people with the same skillset.

"Being part of the ag industry I see that as really important aspect to WA because it is something that with proper management can be continually done again and again.

"Also, it is something in which we do have a particular advantage worldwide.

"It's not just that WA can produce the best Udon, compared to anywhere in the world, it's also that we've got the good quality and standing in the international markets - and that's something that needs to be protected and promoted."

Through growth, protection and promotion, Cameron believes the industry will gain in profile and skilled workers.

He said WA's ability to grow Noodle wheat was an example of what gives the industry a competitive edge and could attract people to work in it.

However, the future of the Noodle wheat industry is in question as the major players from growers to breeders and marketers consider how it should continue.

Annually Japan and Korea import about 1,700,000 tonnes of a blend of ANW and APW for Udon and instant noodle production - which is about 20 per cent of the WA wheat crop.

The ANW component of the blend changes year-to-year depending on supply; however on average, makes up about half of the Australian Standard White (ASW) blend.

"I'm not an expert in agronomics but my impression is that it's very hard being a farmer and farmers have had it hard for such a long time," he said.

"If you grow Udon varieties so many times and you've got the opportunity to grow something else like Mace, it's perfectly understandable that you would want to go for that.

"But that's where it's good to have InterGrain where it is promoting this idea that what we need to do is get a win-win situation for both groups.

"It needs to be where the farmers can comfortably grow these great Udon varieties and get paid for it and the markets that buy it are rewarding them for it but also getting a good price."

Cameron is looking forward to working on the next generation of Udon noodle varieties and other grain varieties, with plans to expand his work.

He said through early generation testing varieties could be ruled in or out much earlier in the research, saving money and focusing operations.

He also didn't rule out a return to university studies, particularly if it could benefit his work with InterGrain.

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