Australia’s largest plant breeding company has reaffirmed its commitment to Western Australia’s valuable wheat industry with the appointment of a breeder specialising in soft wheats.

AGT moves to fill soft wheat gap

Dr Usman Ijaz is working out of Australian Grain Technologies’ (AGT) newly-upgraded Western Field Crop Breeding Centre to develop high-quality varieties of wheat to meet a growing demand from South East Asia’s udon noodle market.

WA exports about 800,000 tonnes of Australian Noodle Wheat (ANW) to noodle markets annually, with ANW forming a significant proportion of the blend favoured by millers for udon noodle production due to characteristics such as bright flour colour, unique starch quality and colour stability.

There is also an increasing appetite for a different kind of soft wheat that is used for biscuit and cake manufacturing, an area Dr Ijaz is also exploring

Dr Ijaz, a former pumpkin and eggplant breeder in Pakistan, said he was honoured to contribute to AGT’s expansion into such a valuable market segment.

He joined the close-knit team at AGT’s Northam based field crop breeding centre after completing his PhD research on the genetics of rust resistance in faba beans while based at Narrabri, New South Wales.

“I’ve always been passionate about the vital role wheat plays in markets around the world and it was my dream to work in wheat breeding when I moved from Pakistan,” Dr Ijaz said.

He said AGT was working closely with milling companies to South East Asia to get a better understanding of the needs of noodle wheat consumers.

“We are tapping into the knowledge we’ve gained from our success in hard wheat breeding and implementing it in our soft wheat breeding program to develop high-yielding varieties which have a complete agronomic package with the right quality traits to meet end user needs,” Dr Ijaz said.

Dr Usman Ijaz joins the AGT team in WA focusing on developing high performing noodle wheats

AGT chief executive officer Dr Haydn Kuchel said the company was proud to have Dr Ijaz join the team at an exciting time in the company’s development.

“AGT has decided to focus heavily on soft wheat, given its importance as a valuable market segment, which will give growers even more options in the crops they grow,” he said.

“We believe there is an opportunity for WA growers to capitalise on the type of wheat they currently grow to meet the needs of emerging markets in SE Asia that are looking for a supply of premium soft wheat.

“Although it’s early days, we foresee the development of soft wheat varieties will become a key activity of our Western Australian wheat breeding program.”

AGT WA head wheat breeder Dr Dion Bennett said the appointment of Dr Ijaz reinforced the company’s commitment to developing more valuable varieties for local growers.

“Wheats destined for the export udon noodle market are an important part of the rotation for WA growers so we’re excited to have a dedicated breeder focusing on developing varieties that suit that market,” he said.