FUNDING for the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC) has been extended, with a $24 million co-investment from the State Government and the Grains Research and Development Corporation (GRDC).
The investment will be spread over four years, with both parties to contribute $3 million each per year from 2022-23 to 2025-26, and the State government also allocating an additional $1 million in 2022-23 for research and development (R&D) activities to benefit local growers.
Established in 2012, AEGIC is an independent, not-for-profit research organisation which gathers, analyses and shares market information with the grains industry to guide breeding, classification and supply of grain to our domestic and export markets.
AEGIC also works with Western Australian-based breeding company InterGrain, which is also co-owned by the State government and the GRDC, to develop varieties suited to WA conditions that meet customer expectations.
The GRDC board and chairman John Woods and the AEGIC board and management team, including chief executive Richard Simonaitis and chairman Ron Storey, were at the announcement at AEGIC's headquarters in Perth, along with Agriculture and Food Minister Alannah MacTiernan.
Ms MacTiernan said the grains market had become increasingly volatile and complex, and highlighted AEGIC's work to ensure Australian grain export relationships were secure and the industry was well-placed to adapt to the trading environment.
"We are truly of the view that it is only by having that capacity for detailed, complex understanding of the market, being engaged in the market intel and then back the other way, the promotion and the R&D, that we have been able to get the insights we need to position our product," Ms MacTiernan said.
"This funding commitment from our government and the GRDC will ensure that AEGIC's work can continue and grow over the next four years."
Whilst Ms MacTiernan welcomed the formation of Grains Australia, she expressed concern it could lead to a change in the fundamental structure of AEGIC and its value proposition, and said WA was "very interested" in hosting Grains Australia if possible.
Mr Woods said after some growing and establishment pains in the first 18 months of AEGIC's existence, the WA government and GRDC had "righted the ship together".
"You've done a cracking job developing in-market opportunities and growing broader opportunities, not just wheat and barley - you've gone into oats aggressively and, obviously, we are looking for other opportunities that we can then bolt onto AEGIC," Mr Woods said.
As a baseline investor, Mr Woods said GRDC was looking for opportunities to invest in AEGIC, where it had skills and attributes to deliver to its growers, markets and supply chains.
"This financial year we are investing about half a million dollars on top of our core funding to ensure that some of those activities get done, because we want to use the vehicles that are aligned to our interests and our growers interests," he said.
Acknowledging that capability and capacity had become an issue for the grains industry, Mr Woods said it was vital resourcing and investment from both the public and private sectors was maintained but also increased.
Impressed by AEGIC's commitment to expanding the grains industry export markets, Mr Woods said AEGIC had been on the front foot and was partly responsible for increasing the appetite and understanding of South East Asian markets of Australian feed barley, diversifying markets for Australian malting barley to India and Latin America, and securing access to the 1 billion euro canola market.
In recent years, AEGIC had explored the wheat quality preferences of Asian customers and continues to work with flour millers and processors in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam and the Philippines to help them understand the benefits of using Australian wheat for noodles and baked products.
"AEGIC's work involves engaging with, and forging relationships with exporters and off-shore markets and this work ultimately benefits Australian growers," Mr Woods said.
"Their analysis and market intelligence helps our industry understand and tailor grain varieties to meet market requirements and develop new uses for existing grain products, which ultimately improves our onfarm profitability."
Mr Woods said GRDC would be looking to AEGIC to fi nd new opportunities and provide market analysis in pulses, oilseeds and sorghum, continue to develop and engage with South East Asian markets and to also "stretch a little" into the domestic market in the Eastern States.
"We have a huge advantage when it comes to our brand," Mr Woods said.
"We have really nice provenance when it comes to the Asian markets - they're on our doorstep, so we need to make sure we differentiate our grain, we meet their market requirements and they understand what our classification system is, so that when they purchase our grain they know exactly what they're getting."
Gluten free, a feedstock and also used for human consumption in several African countries, Mr Woods said AEGIC also had the task of marketing sorghum as well as looking at more human consumption opportunities for Australian chickpeas and lentils.
Taking a small group, including Ms MacTiernan, to sample some of the food being developed by AEGIC researchers using Australian food-grade oats, AEGIC chief executive Richard Simonaitis said the organisation's strategic approach in marketing the grain to Asian markets was to move it beyond the breakfast table.
"We all know the health story around oats and that Australia has a unique ability to produce food-grade oats, but what is stopping greater demand pull in the market is that the Asian market already has lots of different bubur, as they call it, from rice, mungbean, millet and sorghum, and they aren't necessarily in love with porridge," Mr Simonatis said.
By moving oats into products that Asian consumers eat at lunch and dinner time, Mr Simonaitis said Australia could differentiate its oats from the rest of the world.
Guests were given the opportunity to sample 100 per cent wholemeal oat noodles, oat rice salad, oat rice risotto as well as a oat salad dressing using a beta glucan fraction to give it the viscosity you would normally expect from fat.
"The heat treatment our researchers have been able to do means that we are now the only people in the world who can make semolina from oat," Mr Simonaitis said.
"We have been able to realign the crystalline structure inside of the starch so that it makes the grain more vitreous and it wants to fracture in a way that gives you that structure - so if you can do semolina you can do proper pasta."
AEGIC chairman Ron Storey the ongoing investment from GRDC and the State government was testament to the high level of support AEGIC has across the Australian grains supply chain.
"Congratulations also to AEGIC's hardworking team of market experts, researchers and scientists for delivering such impactful work on behalf of growers and the wider industry," Mr Storey said.
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