A STUDY tour to China has provided a unique insight into the demands of end users of Western Australian barley.
WA Department of Primary Industries and Regional Development (DPIRD) research officer Jeremy Curry participated in the tour, with members of the South East Premium Wheat Growers Association (SEPWA) last month.
The tour was part of SEPWA’s Barley brand development for Asian consumers project, funded by a department Grower Group Research and Development grant.
During the seven-day tour the group visited two leading malting houses, barley importers, processors, two major breweries and a dairy that uses imported Australian grain.
Mr Curry said the fact-finding mission highlighted the importance of satisfying the Chinese market’s preference for higher protein malting barley.
“WA barley is generally highly regarded by the huge Chinese malting barley market, which continues to expand,” he said.
“The common feedback from maltsters and brewers was the desire for WA barley with a protein level of 10.5 per cent.
“In recent years, seasonal conditions have made it difficult for local growers to attain that target, reducing the value of WA grain, which has had to be blended in China with higher protein grain from Canada and Europe.”
The tour group also sought feedback from the Chinese end-users about what they thought of new varieties, such as RGT Planet.
“The brewers and maltsters were aware of RGT Planet but had limited knowledge about its performance,” Mr Curry said.
“This feedback illustrated the importance of sharing information about the malt quality attributes of new varieties so end-users can be confident it meets their requirements, while growers adopting high-yielding varieties can have faster assurance of the grain’s market value.
“The Chinese also clearly preferred a slower turnover of varieties and transparency when phasing out and introducing new barley varieties so they can prepare for when the variety is no longer available.”
Food safety, which has wide-ranging implications for raw material imports, like barley, was another major concern for the Chinese.
Mr Curry said it was important for WA to continue to uphold the State’s reputation for supplying clean, safe and good quality barley to ensure ongoing market access.
“Chinese importers have a clear, stringent approach to the risk of mould, while other grain aesthetic attributes, such as blackpoint staining, are also important,” he said.
“The market prefers unstained grain, so varieties with less susceptibility to staining and brighter grain will be of greater value to growers to help meet current receival standards.”
Mr Curry said he learnt a lot on the tour and appreciated hearing first-hand from the end-users about their issues and requirements.
“Understanding the preferences of our main export customers is very important and helps drive some of the main themes of our research, such as how growers can meet grain protein specifications without increased risk,” he said.
Mr Curry attended the tour as part of the Barley Agronomy project, co-funded by the department and the Grains Research and Development Corporation.