Australian Wheat Part 1

1. Marketing Wheat to the World
AWB markets millions of tonnes of Australian wheat all over the world, every year. It operates under a legislated Single Desk marketing system, which is designed to provide growers with consistent returns from international markets for their wheat by having a single supplier of bulk Australian wheat for export. The Single Desk responsibilities are conducted under Federal Government legislation, known as the Wheat Marketing Act 1989. AWB is formally committed through its corporate constitution to use the Single Desk to maximise returns for Australian growers delivering to AWB National Pool.

Wheat is received by the AWB National Pool under strict receival standards and segregated according to grade classification and quality attributes. The specific qualities and attributes of pool wheat are then matched to meet the requirements of and contractual arrangements for international customers.

The Single Desk system is managed as an integrated wheat management system. This means that AWB is involved in the whole marketing process, from developing new wheat varieties right through to shipping our end product to international customers. It involves crop shaping and setting receival standards, driving efficiencies in storage, handling and transport and, ultimately, delivering a unique product, demanded by and made to order for international customers.

"Crop shaping" is a process for AWB to direct and manage Australian wheat quality profile, by communicating important market information from the customer back to breeding programmes and grain growers. AWB sets receival and quality requirements to reflect the needs of international customers. This information then encourages Australian growers to produce precisely the type and quality of wheat customers are seeking and puts growers in a position to receive better returns.

AWB Customers
Australia exports to more than 100 customers in more than 40 countries around the globe, principally in the Middle East and Asia regions. All markets have specific varietal, volume and timing requirements that must be met to ensure the customer is satisfied, which in turn forms lasting business relationships.

2. Moving Wheat
from Paddock to Plate Grain is grown throughout Australia, but primarily in a narrow crescent running through the mainland states. This area is generally known as the wheat belt (Fig. 24).
Fig. 24: Australian wheat growing regions and export terminals
 3. Australian Wheat Grades
AWB has developed six main wheat grades - Prime Hard, Hard, Premium White, Standard White, Soft and Durum (Tab. 28). These main wheat grades can be further segregated in order to supply specific qualities that match customers specifications.
Tab. 28: Indicative protein specifications and regional availability
 Australian growers produce clean and dry, white wheat with varying protein levels. A wide variety of wheats are grown across Australia due to the diverse cropping conditions across the wheat belt. Growers are provided with incentives and rewards for producing wheat with specific qualities that attract higher market returns.

4. Australian Wheat Varieties
There are hundreds of different wheat varieties available to Australian wheat farmers. Wheat breeders are continually developing new varieties so that farmers can choose wheat seeds suited to their specific production environment.

Some different variety characteristics include:
• Adaptation to different rainfall regions i.e. low, medium or high rainfall
• Resistant to particular diseases i.e. rust, Septoria
• Quick growing
• High yielding
• High protein (good protein accumulation)
• Improved grain milling characteristics to suit end-users

5. The Growth Cycle
Australian wheat is planted in autumn and early winter and grows during winter and spring. Planting or sowing times depend on region and weather conditions, but generally begins early in May and ends in July, with most farmers waiting for a good rain or "break" to the season before starting.

Farming practices have changed considerably over the past twenty years and the type of machinery and seeding equipment used varies greatly. An increasing number of farmers now plant their crops using large scale seeding machinery, with minimum cultivation or ploughing of the soil. This type of seeding is referred to as minimum tillage. Pulled by large tractors, the seeding equipment creates a furrow for the seed and fertilizer, which are generally placed in the soil simultaneously.

Once planted, the wheat plant grows during winter and spring and needs rain to ensure high production. The growing process involves a number of stages (Fig. 3: Wheat plant development scale (modified from Large, 1954with the wheat plant ripening and ready for harvest around November and December, depending on the region and type of season.

During the growing period, farmers monitor and manage their crops closely for signs of malnutrition, pests, disease or weeds to maximize yield potential.

The wheat plant takes approximately five to six months to reach full maturity and turn a golden colour. At this point, the crop is harvested quickly to avoid exposure to adverse weather such as rain and hail, which can adversely impact yield or grain quality. The harvest period in Australia goes from the end of spring through to the middle of summer. Large and sophisticated harvesters are used for this job, with the self-propelled machines cutting the heads of wheat, threshing and sieving the wheat heads to remove and hold the grain while separating the chaff. Once the grain is separated, it is emptied from the harvester into storage or directly into trucks, which deliver to a grain receival point. The stubble, i.e. the stalks of the wheat plant, remains standing in the paddock. It is used for stock feed and as protection against soil erosion.

Weather Conditions
Weather is a major determinant for final wheat yield and quality. The plant grows slowly during winter when temperatures are cooler and moves faster through the growth phase in spring with the warmer weather conditions. All wheat-growing states experience different climatic conditions and therefore plant and harvest their crops at slightly different times of the year to achieve the best yields (Tab. 29).
Tab. 29: Sowing and harvesting periods
 6. Irrigation
Irrigated crops (not just wheat) account for about 11% of total crop production. Irrigation is conducted throughout small pockets of SA, Vic, NSW and Qld, predominantly in areas located near rivers or channel sources.

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