Many buyers of farm produce now demand that the products they purchase meet prescribed quality standards, are free of chemical residues and have been handled in a way to ensure they do not create health problems for consumers.
Quality assurance (QA) programs already exist in the animal and horticultural industries, and are beginning to move into the grains industry.
Quality assurance programs can offer benefits to graingrowers in two ways: firstly, through productivity gains due to good management practices; and secondly, through marketing advantages such as price premiums, attracting new markets or, alternatively, holding existing markets against competitors.
Another scenario is, there will not be a market for products that are not produced under a quality assurance system.
Hurdles to QA for the wheat industry
Many of the benefits of implementing an on-farm quality assurance system for wheat have not been quantified. The wheat industry needs market information on:
- What markets want quality-assured grain?
- What grades of wheat will this include?
- Do they want it now or in how many years in the future? and
- How much is quality-assured grain worth to them over non-quality-assured grain?
In the domestic market, many flour mills already have in place their own quality assurance systems and use approved suppliers. Lot feeders and stockfeed manufacturers are also moving towards approved suppliers and pushing quality assurance on-farm. For the growers, the most commonly asked questions are:
- Will the benefits of quality assurance be greater than the costs?
- How large will the productivity gains and premiums be?
- Alternatively, will there be a discount if you do not grow quality-assured grain?
Quality Wheat Co-operative Research Centre project
The Quality Wheat Co-operative Research Centre (CRC) has completed a 12-month project to develop a quality assurance system for the Australian wheat industry.
The aim of the project was to develop 'through chain' Hazard Analysis Critical Control Points (HACCP) quality assurance systems (see diagram facing page) throughout the Australian wheat industry. Pilot studies in two key sectors of the Australian wheat industry were implemented — soft and noodle wheat for export to Japan and domestic milling wheat.
Identifying safety and quality hazard
The soft and noodle wheat pilot study covered the whole chain from seed to ship.
Wheat growers attended workshops where they learnt about HACCP methodology. Flow diagrams were developed to represent the process of growing a crop. In many cases this spanned more than 12 months, quite different to many manufacturing processes which can be completed in hours or days.
The next step was the identification of hazards to the production of wheat. Both food safety and quality hazards were identified. Some examples of hazards for on-farm wheat production are sprouted grain, sticks and stones, chemical residues, heavy metals and protein content outside the requirements for premium segregations.
Most of the significant hazards identified were concerned with quality rather than food safety hazards.
Preventive measures were developed to eliminate or reduce the hazards. For example, many buyers of our wheat are concerned with chemical residues in grain. The presence of chemical residues represents a hazard for growing wheat and triggers avoidance measures such as using only registered chemicals at recommended rates, observing withholding periods, and using trained staff.
Each step in the process is then monitored to ensure everything is under control and problems are corrected. For example, if an unregistered chemical is used by mistake, then a residue test might be taken before the grain is delivered. Alternatively, that grain could be used as seed.
As part of the Quality Wheat CRC project, the Meyers Strategy Group conducted customer interviews in Japan, and found that:
- Australia is the supplier of first choice for noodle wheat
- consumers have become more sensitive over chemical issues
- one major flour mill carries out its own additional chemical testing
- Japanese flour millers are introducing HACCP
- consumers are concerned about genetically engineered crops.
There are indicators that in the future this market will want quality-assured grain.
As more flour mills introduce HACCP, more attention will be focused on suppliers of the raw ingredient, wheat. Hazards to yield, quality and profit are easily incorporated into HACCP plans and can provide growers with a way to increase profitability as well as ensure safe quality food.
Nicole Kerr is the Quality Coordinator for Grains with Agriculture Western Australia and is based at Geraldton. Ph: 08 9956 8555
Pulse Australia has an on-farm QA package available for growers and farm advisers.For further information contact Pulse Australia on phone (02) 9247 2033 or fax (02) 9247 1158.