Dr Siem Siah
Senior Grains Research Scientist – Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC).
WA growers with long memories will remember that, once upon a time, there was healthy demand for Australian soft wheat specifically to make cakes and biscuits.
In recent years though, the amount of soft wheat grown in Australia has declined, and the United States has come to dominate the Asian soft wheat export market. Australian soft wheat is now mostly grown under contract to supply the domestic biscuit and cake market.
With investment from the Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD), AEGIC identified an opportunity to revitalise the soft wheat industry and create new value for WA growers.
Greater than 3 million tonne market by 2030 in South East Asia
The popularity of baked products, such as cookies and cakes, is growing across South East Asia and China as incomes grow and diets change.
Flour millers in Asian markets have told us they are very interested in sourcing soft wheat from Australia to meet demand and reduce their dependency on the US. They like the proximity to Australia because there is a lower risk of carryover stocks, and sometimes lower freight costs. There is also the option to combine cargos of hard and soft wheat which increases the competitiveness of Australian wheat exports.
Our analysis estimates that soft wheat demand could be more than 3mmt by 2030 in South East Asia alone. The annual growth rate in South East Asia for cakes and biscuits is twice that of noodles, which is what Australian wheat is typically mostly used for.
Recognising this as a clear opportunity, AEGIC began working with growers, breeders and other industry stakeholders to support a potential new Australian soft wheat industry.
Australian breeding companies Australian Grain Technologies, InterGrain and LongReach responded by significantly increasing investment into soft wheat breeding programs in WA and are conducting soft wheat trials. AEGIC is supporting these breeding programs by helping to ensure Australian soft wheat meets market requirements.
Separately, these breeding companies, together with AEGIC, have invested in soft wheat trials in Katanning, WA, through TrialCo. The trials are coordinated by the WA Soft Wheat Growers Association Inc (WASWGA) and GroIQ. AEGIC has been working with Indonesian mills to evaluate these trials for soft wheat quality and cookie performance against samples from other origins, with promising results so far.
Working with soft wheat customers in key Asian markets
Indonesia is a key focus of this project, along with other South East Asian markets and Japan.
AEGIC is working with major flour mills in Indonesia to identify potential soft wheat lines. The Indonesian mills have evaluated a number of different trial wheat samples for physicochemical and cookie quality, with promising results. AEGIC has also engaged with a mill in the Philippines that has assessed the potential soft wheat lines.
Working towards a new soft wheat industry in the longer term
Working with Asian customers to demonstrate the quality and value of Australian soft wheat increases the likelihood they will buy our soft wheat in the future – ultimately benefiting growers.
We will continue to work closely with growers and the Australian wheat industry – as well as key Asian flour millers – with the aim of a reinvigorated Australian soft wheat export industry.
AEGIC is an initiative of the Western Australian State Government and Grains Australia. AEGIC acknowledges the investment of the Western Australian Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) in this project.
This article was originally featured in DPIRD’s Grains Convo newsletter.