AMARILLO - The United States could sell 1 million metric tons of hard white wheat to Asian countries now if the wheat was available, said Texas Agricultural Experiment Station state wheat breeder.
An obvious choice to fill the order is the High Plains, with it's drier climate and large wheat production.
Dr. Jackie Rudd, associate professor at the Texas A&M University System Agricultural Research and Extension Center in Amarillo, attended a two-week Wheat Quality Improvement Team trip to Asia. The trip was hosted by U.S. Wheat Associates and sponsored in part by the Texas Wheat Producers Board.
Rodney Mosier, Texas Wheat Producers Board executive vice president, said this trip was an opportunity for Rudd to see what the Asian countries are demanding and report these needs to the board and producers.
Rudd and researchers from Oklahoma, Colorado, North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Oregon, heard both the likes and dislikes of these countries. The researchers also had the opportunity to teach about the U.S. wheat breeding program.
The team visited mills and bakeries in Korea, China, Taiwan, Thailand and the Phillipines. Together these countries purchase almost 4 million metric tons of U.S. wheat. The majority is used for making noodles, followed by western style and steamed breads.
They purchase another 4.4 million metric tons of wheat from other countries, which represents an opportunity for growth in the U.S. export market.
"They prefer hard white for some of their products," Rudd said. "They are buying almost all of their hard white wheat from Australia now. Canada and the United States are both trying to get this new class of wheat started."
Millers can get a higher extraction rate from hard white wheat. Lower ash content and good color stability for the dough also are important qualities for steamed breads and most types of noodles, he said.
While every country is looking for a consistent supply and internationally competitive price, each one has a slightly different perspective and demand, Rudd said.
Korea, with its growing economy and desire for quality products, buys mostly soft white wheat, followed by hard red spring and hard red winter. Koreans expressed frustration over the lack of availability of hard white, Rudd said.
Korea makes a wide variety of noodles and steamed bread. For this, hard white varieties with typical hard red winter wheat quality will work if the ash is low, he said, and it has a greater elasticity of the dough.
"Strong gluten we have, but the elasticity is something we haven't selected for," Rudd said. "We've learned there are some characteristics we can add to our wheat to improve quality for Asian products without hurting its bread-baking quality. There is room for improvement."
Taiwan buys almost exclusively from the United States, but millers and bakers are testing Australia's hard white wheat and like it for certain products. They too, would like something with lower ash, higher amylo viscosity and better color stability.
China has a large supply of domestic wheat, but needs to buy high quality wheat to blend with the lesser quality domestic supply. They buy high protein hard red spring and low protein soft white wheats. They like the color of dough and noodles made from Australian wheat, but prefer more gluten strength and want to try U.S. hard white wheat.
"Their need for wheat is going up and it will be cheaper to buy than to produce it on their limited land," Rudd said. "The opportunity to sell to China is going to be increasing dramatically. They experienced a 10 percent growth in their economy this year alone."
Rudd said the message from both Taiwan and China was, "We'll buy hard white wheat immediately. Whether we continue to buy will depend on the quality, price and consistent supply."
Thailand buys mostly high protein hard red spring, soft white and hard red winter wheats. They purchased a small amount of hard white and want to buy more. Australia and Canada generally price under the United States in this market, but Rudd said the United States offers the ability to buy multiple classes and combine orders of other crops on a single vessel.
The Phillippines buy mostly from the United States and Canada, but some from Australia. Western-style bread is more popular than in the other countries and noodles are less popular. They too like the one-stop shopping available from the United States and would like to add hard white to their current purchases of hard red spring and soft white wheat, Rudd said.
The technology is available in the United States, as well as the varieties needed to meet these demands, he said.
The next move is based on supply and demand, Rudd said.
The Asian countries want a large consistent supply. The growers are afraid to produce it because they are not sure there will be a demand, he said. Without an established local market, they would be dependent on the export market to buy their entire crop.
Hard white wheat can sprout in the head pre-harvest, which happened this past year in many of the wheat growing regions under record rainfall. With its drier climate, the High Plains has an advantage over other parts of the country to produce high quality hard white wheat, Rudd said.
Mosier said the Texas Wheat Producers Board helped fund this trip in hopes Rudd could use the information to continue developing and breeding hard white wheat for this area and increase the overall market for wheat.
"We've sponsored hard white wheat seminars in Guymon, Okla., and Colby, Kan., to educate producers on the benefits and production concerns of this class of wheat. We hope Jackie will take this knowledge and work to breed resistance into hard white wheats in the future - possibly developing varieties less susceptible to sprout damage with higher yields and disease resistance.
"The Asian market has potential for the future of Texas wheat exports," Mosier said.