FOR WA wheat growers to further capitalise on South East Asian flour markets their exported wheat needs to be utilised in the creation of a range of food products other than noodles.
At the start of the month farmers who formed part of CBH's South East Asia grower study tour were told the State's plant breeders needed to take heed of the message that there are no good biscuit or bread wheats currently being grown in WA.
While former CBH South East Asia technical expert and Interflour executive Dr Nazir Azudin told the group there were a couple of varieties which nearly stacked up, including Bonnie Rock (bred by Robin Wilson and the Agriculture and Food Department's wheat breeding team), segregation capabilities needed to be implemented in order to maximise and capture value premiums for growers who participated in potential variety exports to South East Asian flour mills.
As the largest buyer of wheat in the South East Asian region, Indonesia imported about six million tonnes every year to feed its population's dietary requirements which had moved away from being rice-based in the last few years due to better incomes and the rising economic status of the county.
The fact 14.5 billion packets of instant noodles were sold in Indonesia in 2010 (second only to China) and instant noodle consumption continued to grow by about 10 per cent a year meant Australian wheat would always have a place in the region.
But the 35pc annual growth of some of the region's bread markets was difficult to ignore.
"With that comes challenges for Australian wheat," Dr Naz said.
"Bread wheat isn't really Australia's top seller at the moment.
"The good news is Australian wheat makes good base flour for many Asian products and its colour and starch make it perfect for noodles but there is a need for Australia to further strengthen the competitiveness of its wheat.
"Our wheat industry needs to be able to produce something of comparable quality to produce bread.
"Bread flour is a challenge for Australia."
He said while Australia's white wheat was an attractive bright product with a great extraction rate it barely featured in the billions of loaves of pre-sliced white sandwich bread, sweet buns, bread-based snack foods, sweet biscuits and crackers being pumped out of factories throughout Indonesia, Malaysia and Vietnam.
"The biscuit market is also a big opportunity the Australian wheat industry is missing out on because those products are manufactured using Soft wheat," Dr Naz said.
"Soft wheat is being used from America in the South East Asian flour mills.
"Australia used to export about 400,000t of it but would now be lucky to ship 50,000t.
"The majority of the crop is utilised by Arnotts or Weston Milling for the domestic market."
General manager of Interflour's Prestasi Flour Mill at Port Klang in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, Elma Nau told CBH's South East Asia study tour growers the USA's reddish wheats were used in his mill's bread flours because of its 15pc (and higher) protein and consistent supply.
"WA wheat at those specifications isn't always available," Mr Nau said.
"Malaysian consumers expect their bread loaves to be of a certain volume standard and that expectation flows back to the flour mills.
"Australian wheat breeders are currently using Australian wheat as benchmarks, instead they need to use USA or Canadian wheat as a benchmark to create and breed varieties for Asian bread making."
There had been whispers that American plant breeders had already started benchmarking some of their new varieties against those of competitor countries via a number of mills in Bangkok, Thailand.
"Somebody needs to take the lead because nobody is championing that idea for Australia," Dr Naz said.
"At the moment Australian plant breeders are finding varieties to perform in the field but not looking for something to knock out competitors in the global market."
p Bobbie Hinkley travelled to Malaysia and Indonesia courtesy of CBH group.