GROWERS from WA’s Ord River region have had the opportunity to taste snack food made from Kimberley corn during a relationship building tour with a key customer in South Korea.
Nine people – including representatives of the Ord River District Co-operative (ORDCO), growers, seed suppliers and grain traders – made their way to the east Asian country in early February for a five-day tour of port and processing facilities.
WA grower opportunities in the South Korean market were given a boost two years ago, after ORDCO struck an export deal with a key customer in 2016 which saw 10,000 tonnes of corn shipped out of the Wyndham Port.
A further 10,000t of corn from ORDCO was shipped out of the Wyndham Port to South Korea late last year, with plans to double exports to 20,000t in 2018.
The Kimberley corn is used to produce several products including thickeners, corn flour, soups, polenta and snack foods including corn chips.
Among those on the trip was ORDCO chief executive officer David Cross, who said the tour gave those involved a greater understanding of the entire journey of their corn from port to packet.
Mr Cross said the group toured one of the region’s processing facilities, and tasted corn chips produced from Kimberley grain.
“It’s nice to see our grain at the other end, we physically got to see some of our grain being transferred from storage into the facility,” Mr Cross said.
“It was insightful to understand exactly what happens to our grain and where it ends up.”
Mr Cross said customers had been impressed with the quality of exports out of the Ord, with varieties grown in the region well-suited to the South Korean market.
He said the Ord region’s ability to irrigate ensured a good quality, consistent product.
“It’s about ensuring that the right varieties can be produced in our region and fortunately the varieties that the customer is looking for, those varieties do grow well here in the Ord, so that’s a plus,” Mr Cross said.
“It’s really about large kernel size and consistency and that’s what our ability to irrigate gives us – the capacity to be able to consistently supply that quality.”
Between 2500 and 3000 hectares of corn is expected to be planted in the Ord this year, with planting set to begin in April.
With corn plantings in the region up from about 1500ha last year, Mr Cross was optimistic the industry would continue to grow beyond 2018.
“That growth has come from some growth in the export market but we also sell it in the local pastoral market here as a high energy grain so there’s been growth on that side as well,” Mr Cross said.
“We’re hoping to export 20,000t this year and certainly we’re looking to build this further.”
Kimberley Agricultural Investments (KAI) general manager Jim Engelke was also involved in the tour.
Mr Englelke said the trip left the group encouraged about the potential for an expansion of the corn industry in the Ord.
“We didn’t know an awful lot about the Korean market but it was nice to sit in front of various business people and look for opportunities where they might exist in the capacity of what we do in the Ord,” Mr Engelke said.
“It was just to understand a bit further what the Korean market is doing, consumer trends and to look at how we might be able to become a part of that in the future.
“It was positive in giving us a better understanding of the markets and it’s certainly going to be beneficial, certainly for us in the Ord, but more generally for the Australian growers and suppliers.”