Eyes open for a world of opportunities

Testing the product: Regency TAFE researchers with members of the Flinders Ranges Premium Grains Group, who are trying to export to Japan.

By Kay Ansell

When it comes to adding value to grain, Brian Hansen has done his homework. From India to Eastern Europe, America to Asia, he has interviewed users of grain in a quest to identify niche markets for Australian growers.

Mr Hansen is sharing that knowledge through a series of "eye-opening" seminars sponsored by the GRDC, the National Food Industry Strategy and state agencies.

The former General Manager of Agrifood Development for Food South Australia, turned farmer and consultant, talked to traders, millers, storage companies and graders, repackagers, brewers, bakers, food researchers, wholesalers and retailers.

"We spoke to research agencies about what use you could get out of the functional characteristics of grain"s various components," he says. Taking private business people with him on a South Australian funded fact-finding mission, he visited multinational companies and small enterprises.

He concluded that there are attractive opportunities out there for Australian graingrowers, at a time when the industry is facing increasing competition from countries that are successfully exporting inferior bulk grains. One such opportunity arising from this work is the potential for exporting frozen dough products from Australia to Japan.

Photo: Testing the product: Regency TAFE researchers with members of the Flinders Ranges Premium Grains Group, who are trying to export to Japan.

The scale of value added exports can be relatively low but earn significantly more than bulk commodities.

Depending on the degree of processing, the value of grain could increase four-fold, such as for wholesale packaged premixes, through to 12-fold, for a product like retail noodles, he says.

"For the Australian economy, that is significant activity. If 125,000 tonnes of grain could be value added, additional wealth could be created worth around eight times the farm value of grain.

"If we valued it at $175 a tonne farm gate, 125,000 tonnes of grain is worth $22 million. But by value adding, we increase the economic activity - the value of sales - to $175 million. If growers are involved in the value chain, they would share in some of that."

A group of growers from Orroroo in SA is close to doing just that. The Flinders Ranges Premium Grains Group has six farming families who are trying to crack one of the world"s toughest markets for food products - Japan.

Their ambition to sell frozen dough products has been backed by extraordinary reserves of patience and persistence throughout their three-year journey. They have also invested heavily in research and development and marketing. The latter is obviously especially difficult in a non- English-speaking country, says group member Peter Barrie, whose property is at Willowie, 280 kilometres north of Adelaide.

They have been trialling three products: a butter roll, a dinner roll and a fruit roll. The most recent feedback from their prospective clients in Japan has been promising but pointed to a need for further trials.

The group has been using Kukri, a Southern Australian wheat variety, which adds significantly to the shelf life of frozen dough. The pollution-free, low input crops that come from the Flinders Ranges also offer a marketing edge in the clean-food conscious Japanese market, Mr Barrie believes.

Dave Lewis has guided the Flinders Ranges group from the start. The principal officer in grains, Department of Primary Industries and Resources, SA (PIRSA), he helped them to develop their vision and identify gaps in their knowledge base, as well as providing networks, resources, contacts and assistance to aid in their business"s expansion.

Mr Lewis says growers can now capitalise on past experiences and draw on the increasing resources available through regional development boards in SA and private consultants: "The first thing is be prepared to give it a go. If you have an idea about how to do more with your grain, don"t be shy to make contact with people who can help carry that idea further."

For Peter Barrie, it is about having the courage to follow your dreams. "Whether you can convert your dreams and good ideas into a commercial reality - that"s the crunch point. But if you don"t try you"ll never know."

"Eye Opening Workshops" run by Brian Hansen and Denis Gastin will be held across regional Australia, starting with NSW, SA and WA.

For more information:
Brian Hansen, brian_ hansen@bigpond.com