Gatekeepers of Quality by Ken Quail, BRI Australia

Left: Dr Ken Quail, BRI Australia: comprehensive quality assessments of over 400 new cross-breds. Above: Asian noodles form a significant market for Australian wheat. This quality-conscious market has a list of requirements.

MEETING THE quality requirements of customers is essential if we are to capture the highest returns for Australian wheat. GRDC is investing in a wide portfolio of wheat quality projects to address market requirements. The major benefits of these programs will flow through new wheat varieties with improved quality.

A cornerstone of these investments is the National Wheat Quality Evaluation Program (NWQEP). This program has provided comprehensive quality assessments of over 400 new cross-breds and their controls from nine wheatbreeding programs.

All the material has been assessed by one independent laboratory to ensure that the results are comparable and that there are no concerns of commercial interests influencing results. This will become more important with the increasing privatisation of Australian wheat breeding.

Graham McMaster, CEO of BRI Australia, the company providing the testing service, makes the point that BRI Australia does not trade grain or take ownership of grain varieties.

New quality-tested varieties

In four years, 31 new wheat varieties have been released with the support of NWQEP data. Brian Osborne, who manages the program, emphasised that "the quality evaluation is extremely detailed and includes a wide range of consumer products made from wheat including pan breads, Asian noodles and Chinese steamed breads.

"This allows us to identify new marketing opportunities as well as avoiding the release of lines that may spoil a market. In some cases, the NWQEP has the potential to provide new data with which to rescue a variety whose quality is in question." The information is used to support the AWB's classification, which affects the value of the variety to growers.

For the first time researchers can map the improvement of wheat quality in Australia. Says Dr Osborne, "this enables comparison between breeding programs, regions and is a measure of our improvement in quality over time". Such infonnation will be extremely valuable both for the marketing of grain but also to manage the GRDC's investment in wheat-breeding programs.

Following are some useful trends to emerge from the program.

Flour milling yield

Traditional approaches have indicated significant differences between the performance of wheat at milling from different regions. With the broad database provided by the NWQEP, it was possible to compare the milling perfonnance using an index that includes milling yield and takes into account the flour quality - the milling quality index.

Applying this index shows, for instance, the perfonnance of wheat from the west to be better than previously thought. Whilst this approach requires confirmation with commercial-scale milling, it does indicate marketing opportunities and provides infonnation on how programs can improve milling perfonnance.

Flour colour

White flour is favoured in many markets and bleaching may be used to produce a pure white colour. This practice is no longer followed in Australia and is becoming less popular overseas as consumers seek food products with fewer chemical additives.

Selecting wheat varieties with low flour yellowness will improve Australian wheat for many applications. Through the NWQEP we can show that the breeding programs have different rates of improvement for this quality feature, but that overall we are seeing wheats with whiter flour coming through the programs. This is considered a very positive outcome.

Noodle colour

In markets producing fresh noodles, it is important that the colour of the noodles remain stable over time so that the noodles look the same from one day to the next. This feature is referred to as colour stability and is measured on manufactured noodle sheets.

Over the four years of the NWQEP we can measure an improvement in this feature. Our breeding programs appear to be making progress for this important quality trait. but there is still room for significant further improvement if we are to stay ahead of our competitors.

Overall, the NWQEP ushers in a new era of openness and transparency in wheat quality assessment while promoting healthy competition and providing a measure for gauging the success of our breeding programs.

Quality infonnation to wheat producers and processors should be available in a user-friendly fonn in the near future.

Program 1 Contact: Dr Brian Osborne 02 9888 9600 email