Laboratory puts our grain through the mill
An unassuming brick building on the edge of the central business district in Toowoomba, Queensland, houses a sophisticated grains industry research facility unknown to most who pass its modest facade.
Step inside though and there’s a lot going on: one day it’s a noodle factory; the next a bakery.
This is where our grain is put through the mill – literally – to measure its performance and to provide global buyers with the critical technical information they need to set up their large commercial mills and bakeries to use Australian grain.
The building houses GrainCorp’s new testing laboratory and is a crucial new link in taking Australia’s cereal grains to world markets.
The layout and equipment of the laboratory give it the appearance of a small commercial bakery or a chef’s test kitchen. It includes a noodle testing facility for Japanese ramen noodle making and a test bakery facility, which together are the key to testing and validating Australian Prime Hard wheat quality.
GrainCorp’s Queensland quality services manager Eric Williamson explains that the testing equipment provides all the quality data on wheat and flour required by customers, which include 15 high volume export clients, such as Cargill and Viterra, and several smaller domestic businesses.
“Samples are drawn and tested all the way through the supply chain and again here in the lab to make sure each consignment is within the specifications requested by the client,” Mr Williamson explains.
“Each representative sample collected at receival sites is retested to confirm the accuracy of the initial field tests. The milling results and flour-quality assessment should always fall within an acceptable range for each grade of wheat.”
Each GrainCorp receival site tests grain from loads as they are delivered, while the most technical of tests – 11 for wheat and 12 for flour – are done in the laboratory.
Getting it wrong can be costly for the client and the grain trader so the testing is stringent. The field instruments are checked against those in the laboratory.
The laboratory has also been certified by the National Association of Testing Authorities, enabling it to be used to validate the tests and results of other laboratories. This ensures everyone’s processes critical to quality are transparent and accurate.
Key measurements for grain, flour and noodles are protein, moisture, gluten levels and colour. Visual assessment is also carried out and remains an important part of validating the product.
The large volume of information created by the tests conducted at the facility also underpins a new annual crop report to support grain marketing internationally. The first of these will be released in April.
The test costs are covered by the storage and handling fees paid by customers such as traders or millers.
Mr Williamson says the laboratory was able to be developed because of the deregulation changes within the Australian grains supply chain. It began operation in November 2011 and tests grain exported through all eastern Australian ports.
“With the demise of the export single desk, the role of providing an annual wheat-quality crop report to industry has, on the east coast, been assumed by GrainCorp,” he says.
“For the past four seasons, we have had all the port zone composite wheat grade samples milled and flour analysed by Agrifood Technology, as they had done for many years for AWB.
“At the same time, GrainCorp’s technical services division has mirrored the milling and basic flour-quality work to ensure we could duplicate the Agrifood results.”
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