March 16, 2015

16/03/2015: Australian organic industry struggling to meet demand

Crisis meetings have been held throughout Australia's cereal growing districts as the organic grain industry experiences its worst shortfall on record, ABC News reports.

Increasing demand for organic grain, in addition to a poor growing season, has resulted in flour millers having to source flour from overseas.

Organic grain is that which is grown without synthetic fertilisers, pesticides and herbicides.

Peter Longhurst, owner of Primal Foods Group, based at Gerringong in New South Wales, said that this season around 30,000 tonnes of organic wheat, rye, oats, barley and lesser known varieties such as spelt and khorasan wheat had been harvested.

Mr Longhurst, who trades almost exclusively in organic grain, said the market was demanding 150,000 tonnes — five times what is available.

"What we have seen in Australia over the past few years is a gradual increase in demand to a point where demand is outstripping supply," he said.

"And that is something that has never happened before within the Australian organic grain industry."
According to Mr Longhurst, there are a number of reasons for the shortage, including the fact that a group of four large organic growers who farmed near Balranyld in the Riverina, sold their water rights last year and exited the land.
"They represented 40 per cent of the organic production in Australia when they were online," he said.

Craig Neale, owner of one of the largest organic flour mills, said the departure of the Balranyld growers "was quite catastrophic" for the industry, when combined with other seasonal issues.

Mr Neale's mother established Wholegrain Milling at Gunnedah in the 1970s, which now supplies organic flour to bakeries around the country.

"This year would be the worst year we have experienced in over 30 years," Mr Neale said.

"I doubt there would be any processors out there that have purchased enough grain for their existing customers."

Last year he was forced to import flour from Ukraine, something he said he hates to do but had no choice.

And he will have to bring in foreign flour again this year.

At Ballarat in Victoria, Hakubaku makes authentic organic Japanese udon, soba, ramen and cha noodles that are exported all over the world, including to Japan.

Chief executive Ryuji Nakamura claims the shortage of organic flour is seriously threatening the future of his business.

Mr Nakamura relied on the growers at Balranyld, and while he has enough grain to supply the next few months' production, he is desperate to speak with farmers who might be willing to supply on a consistent basis.

"We need 3000 metric tonne of organic grain every year," he said.

"That is a lot of grain, and we are here to stay. What we can offer is a long term relationship.

"If you can supply 200 metric tonne every year, we will keep buying 200 metric tonne every single year for the foreseeable future."

Near Karoonda in South Australia, Justin and Rita Porker grow 2,000 acres of organic rye, wheat and barley.

"We could produce five times the amount and still be able to sell it," Mr Porker said.

This year he could ask up to $700 or $800 per tonne for his best quality grain — four times the price of conventionally grown cereal.

Mr Porker is a third generation Mallee farmer who turned to organics a decade ago for health and family reasons. He maintains it was not too difficult to convert.

"We just had the organic certifiers come out and do an inspection and we just had to go through the process which is one year of pre-cert [certification] and two years in-conversion and then you become fully certified."

Read more HERE.

The Global Miller
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