THE future of the Noodle wheat industry in WA will be decided by all players in the supply chain through a new report and consultation being launched by the Grains Industry Association of WA (GIWA) Wheat Council today.
The report, WA's Noodle wheat industry - current status and future challenges, being launched at the Mingenew Irwin Group field day looks at the current and future demand and challenges for Australian Noodle wheat (ANW).
GIWA president Sean Powell said there had been a decline in ANW production in recent years with price volatility and production risk concerning growers.
He said the GIWA Wheat Council was encouraging the industry to have its say on whether there should be investment in driving Noodle wheat production in WA or leave the market to run its own course.
"Some in the industry take the view that it will dwindle out, but this report is about putting some facts on the table so there can be data and information to inform the players," he said.
"It's up to industry to take that in the direction it wants to."
Mr Powell said the industry was at a turning point and the objective of the report was to ask growers, breeders and traders to consider novel approaches to secure the valuable Udon and instant noodle trade for WA.
"In recent years, the price premium for ANW over Australian Premium White (APW) has been insufficiently enticing for wheat growers to sow Calingiri, with growers instead opting for the harder, higher yielding variety Mace," he said.
"As a result we've seen the Noodle wheat plantings on the whole decline.
"Moreover, more variable seasons have caused big swings in yield and production volumes have varied."
Mr Powell said as a grower himself he saw a need to improve the value proposition for growers to sow Noodle wheat.
WA is the only producer of Udon Noodle wheat in the world.
Over the past five years, WA has exported about 1.1 million tonnes annually of Noodle wheat to Japan, or about 20 per cent of WA's wheat crop, which is added to a small domestic production of about 800,000t.
InterGrain has a specific breeding program to develop varieties of premium Udon noodle quality, and regularly hosts Japanese Udon noodle experts to test the quality of noodle produced from WA grain.
WA's Noodle wheat growers supply a need in Asia, particularly Japan and Korea, for a wheat to make Udon noodles.
Japan's wheat consumption of 32.5 kilograms per person annually among its 130 million people is significantly higher than other Asian countries and WA is the target origin for sourcing Noodle wheat, with its clean, white and bright qualities held in high regard.
Udon noodles come under the ANW class 1 and have a very strict protein window of 9.5-11pc, with the ideal grain protein at about 10.5pc.
InterGrain chief executive officer Tress Walmsley confirmed she was worried the Noodle wheat industry, without intervention, would become non-existent.
InterGrain's Noodle wheat breeding program began in the mid-1990s, but was grown in WA in various forms for about 20 years prior to that.
Ms Walmsley has been advocating the Noodle wheat industry on a local level as a part of her Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation (RIRDC) Rural Women's Award won earlier this year.
The award included a $10,000 bursary to bring her Oodles of Noodles project to fruition which recently kicked into gear with a day of Udon noodle making, market insight and a five-course culinary celebration of the noodle at highly regarded Japanese restaurant Nobu, Crown Perth, supported by CBH.
"Even though we've brought out the likes of Zen and Supreme, which are a yield improvement, the reality is that there are many more players investing large dollars in hard wheat breeding," she said.
"We will make more advances in that side of the business, not just in InterGrain, but in other plant breeding companies.
"One of the other challenges is that at the moment the way we trade is just on price, so there's no reason for quality improvements.
"I think if we really have a long-term view of wanting to retain this, then we do have to come together collectively and put some solutions in place.
"What I would like to see is all of industry becoming aware of what are the actual issues, that we look for some creative solutions and then as an industry we unite and put one of those solutions into play."
Mr Powell and Ms Walmsley are encouraging all members of the WA grain sector to consider the report and mechanisms for protecting its future.
Ms Walmsley said there could be avenues for a solution through grain contracting, premium payments built into the price for growers and end point royalties for breeders.
"For growers there are many growers out there who don't grow Noodle wheat and never will grow Noodle wheat, so they could tend to say why do I care? But the reality is there are flow-on benefits of this market to their products," she said.
"Japan and Korea come to WA to buy Noodle wheat and then end up buying other products because they're here and because they have to be here to get their Noodle wheat because it's the only place they can get it.
"The issue is that for a grower to choose to grow noodles he is actually accepting some increased risk so there's risk around yield, nitrogen management, the protein window and your grain doesn't meet the grades as nicely as you would with hard wheat and then there's price volatility.
"All of those things point towards the need for some creative solutions on how we might be able to reward the grower to stay growing noodle wheat.
"That is what the solution needs to focus on, because if you reward the grower then we will come along as we will get rewarded through end point royalty and market share."
The GIWA report and fact sheet is available at www.giwa.org.au or www.aegic.org.au