By MATTHEW WEAVER
A new production line at the Wheat Marketing Center in Portland will help overseas customers learn how to use U.S. wheat in their cracker products.
The line was slated to be operational July 18, said David Shelton, executive director for the center.
The pilot-scale line will be the only one of its kind in the world, Shelton said. Designer Roy Chung, bakery consultant for U.S. Wheat Associates in Singapore, also designed a full-scale line for a baking school based in Bangkok, Thailand. The center's cracker line was also made in Bangkok, and was delivered at the center in 11 crates in early July.
Crackers are a significant portion of the global wheat market, Shelton said.
He expects to see crackers made from hard red spring wheat, hard white winter wheat, soft white wheat and blends of those classes to meet the needs of different markets. The center will then compare those combinations with the wheat of competing countries.
Chung said the cracker line increases the opportunities for U.S. soft wheats, which have greater versatility for cracker products compared to Australian wheats. The line will help demonstrate the differences between U.S. wheats and competing wheats of equal proteins.
"We are well-known for having this wheat for cakes and cookies, things like that, but we have not been promoting a lot of crackers," Chung said.
Chung said he has been able to make headway working with buyers in Indonesia. Shipping wheat to Indonesia from Australia takes five days, while it's a minimum of one month to ship from the United States.
"We are never the cheapest wheat," Chung said. "I'm selling because of the unique character of soft white wheat."
Chung said end users can save money using U.S. wheats and profit.
The cracker line cost about $350,000, and remodeling the center cost about $150,000. Shelton said funding came from wheat organizations in Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Montana, North Dakota and the center's support network.
Wheat customers from Guatemala, Colombia, Brazil, Thailand, Korea and other countries are waiting to use the equipment, Shelton said. The center's first course will be offered in December.