By Steve Wirsching, USW Vice President and Director, West Coast Office
The USW Wheat Quality Improvement Team (WQIT) connects wheat breeders who develop new varieties with overseas customers to discuss which quality characteristics end users value the most. This is essential to the breeding process because for farmers about half of their wheat is exported and importers expect high value from those purchases.
The latest WQIT travelled to Bangkok, Thailand, and Taipei, Taiwan, where they met with quality control specialists April 3 to 12, 2017. The team included:
- Mike Pumphrey, Washington State University;
- Phil Bruckner, Montana State University;
- Robert Talley, AgriPro/Syngenta;
- Steven Wirsching, USW.
To learn more about the team members, click here.
In Bangkok, the breeders met with milling managers from Vietnam, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines who gathered at the UFM Baking and Cooking School to test selected U.S. wheat varieties against their own flours made from competitor wheats under the supervision of Roy Chung, USW Bakery Consultant. An annual event, this year the WQIT observed test results demonstrating that U.S. hard red spring (HRS) wheat quality is improving with longer farinograph stability times and better water absorption. This group also provided feedback on hard red winter (HRW) wheat used for Asian style noodles that require color stability. Many new HRW varieties under development in Montana have very low polyphenol oxidase (PPO) enzymatic levels that help noodles remain bright during processing. U.S. soft white (SW) wheat stands out as the best option for sponge cakes, cookies and crackers. Solvent retention capacity (SRC) values are used to distinguish U.S. wheat quality from other competitors that have similar protein values but vastly different starch and baking qualities.
In Taipei, the team met with the Taiwan Flour Millers Association (TFMA) to discuss wheat quality and supply reliability. Overall, the Taiwanese are satisfied with U.S. wheat quality, but there is always room for improvement, and the U.S. wheat industry is working to stay ahead of the competition. The WQIT also attended the Taipei International Bakery Show and met with several flour millers. Over the years, USW, in partnership with TFMA, has worked to develop this market, and the fruits of our joint efforts were in full display at this international event. The market is incredibly sophisticated with thousands of products that continue to drive wheat flour consumption higher, such that Taiwanese now consume more wheat than rice on a per capita basis. The team also met with China Grain Products Research and Development Institute (CGPRDI) staff who have trained thousands of bakers and other end users to create a wide range of products that keep consumers interested in wheat foods. Established in the 1960s with funding from USW and state wheat commissions, CGPRDI provides technical training for bakers and millers as well as wheat quality analysis.
The wheat breeders also discussed the benefits of hybrid wheat and other non-GMO plant breeding innovations. Talley, the Syngenta wheat breeder, is developing commercial hybrid wheat varieties that promise to increase drought tolerance, heat resistance and overall yield, which could bring benefits to the wheat industry within 5 to 7 years. Some of the millers asked if the new hybrid wheat would be considered a GMO. Talley explained that hybridization has been used for many crops, most notability corn, since the 1930s. Hybrid wheat will not be a GMO crop, but will benefit from the hybrid vigor of crossing two dissimilar high quality parent lines. Like all U.S. public and private breeding programs, Syngenta is committed to bringing high quality wheat to the market.
In today’s hyper-competitive market, overseas customers are not just looking for the lowest prices. More and more are seeking real value. USW is working with public and private breeders to develop high quality wheat varieties that perform not only in the flour mill, but also in the bakery or cookie/cracker line, delivering economic value to the end users and, in turn, to millers and farmers alike.