Taking growers to market

Mark Bransin who farms at Stockport, SA, was a busy man: investigating breadmaking techniques at the Bakery Industry Training Centre, Singapore (left) and viewing some packaged yellow alkaline noodles in a small factory in Singapore (below).

Seven Australian wheatgrowers from WA, SA, Victoria and NSW recently completed an Asian Wheat Uses and Markets course in Singapore.

Supported by growers through a GRDC international collaboration project, facilitated by AGWEST, the course included hands-on noodle and steamed pao making at the Baking Industry Training Centre and educational tours in Singapore and Malaysia of flour mills, bakeries, noodle and pao manufacturing shops and noodle machinery factories.

AGWEST Esperance-based Wheat Development Officer Ben Curtis, who manages the project and hosted the tour, says it's a very positive, market-driven learning experience for the growers involved, all of whom returned home with a clearer understanding of quality requirements. (See course explanation and information form this page.)

Singapore was chosen as the course venue because it is central to many other South-East Asian countries and also has an ideal training and meeting facility, the Baking Industry Training Centre, conveniently located within Prima Flour Mills' premises.

"Singapore is also very multicultural, is developing as an internationally recognised centre of Asian food and dining, and its national language is English, which simplifies communication between Australian growers and industry," Mr Curtis explained.

Grower course participants were Tony Williamson (Bruce Rock, WA), Keith Wilson (Kulin, WA), Mark Branson (Stockport, SA), Philip and Anne Gready (Stawell, Victoria), Graeme Beddison (Horsham, Victoria) and Geoffrey Dale (Illabo, NSW).

Industry participants were Frances Hoyle (AGWEST, Geraldton, WA) and Kirrily Smith (NSW Agriculture, Cootamundra, NSW).

Graeme Beddison, who farms about 550 hectares at Horsham, Victoria, says Australian growers have to become smarter in what they do in order to get a larger slice of the SE Asian market.

"It's up to our plant breeders to breed quality wheats to produce flour which suits SE Asian specifications, and I think growers need to be more aware of the importance of what these markets want.

"Some think as long as their wheat is sold and they get paid, that's okay, but when it can't be sold in opposition to wheat from other countries they're not happy," he said.

Mark Branson of Stockport, SA, who farms about 1,000 hectares and grows bread and durum wheat, malting barley, canola, peas and beans, says Australian wheats appeared to command a premium from the millers because the wheats are so white and clean.

"For us to maintain our price advantage over other countries, quality is the issue, and with other countries trying to catch up, we need to not only maintain our quality but continually improve it."

Anne Gready, who farms, in partnership with husband Philip, about 900 hectares at Lubeck, near Stawell in Victoria, said she previously thought protein was everything but now realises that starch too is very important.

Philip Gready believes Australian growers need to be aware of Asian food needs. "While maintaining yield and quality, we need to focus on producing a cleaner product, with the fewer pesticides and herbicides used, the better.

"And we need to rely on professionals and specialists to market our grain in SE Asia," Mr Gready said.

Geoffrey Dale manages a farm 30 km south of Cootamundra at Illabo, NSW, for Warakirri Agriculture and crops about 3,300 hectares to wheat, canola and lupins.

He believes consistency and quality are market edges Australian wheat enjoys, but SE Asia is a very price-competitive market and it doesn't seem we can expect a premium. "Blending in the flour process seems to be very important, with millers using Australian wheat to lift the quality of blends.

"Grain segregation is also important, so we need to promote our wheat as quality and true to type," Mr Dale said.

Tony Williamson, who this year at Bruce Rock, WA, planted 1,750 hectares of wheat, says he wants to keep the customer satisfied and needs to know where his wheat goes and how it's used.

"The concept of visiting an overseas market, as a group of farmers with agricultural agency researchers and officers, is brilliant and also assists with networking. Also, the cultural experience and general understanding of the Asian way of doing business were particularly valuable," he said.

Contact: Mr Ben Curtis 08 9083 1111, Ms Anne Gready and Mr Philip Gready 03 5359 6251, Mr Graeme Beddison 03 5384 2201, Mr Mark Branson 08 8528 2412, Mr Geoffrey Dale 02 6943 4429, Mr Tony Williamson 08 9046 9017.