By MITCH LIES
SEOUL, South Korea -- Northwest wheat producers won't crack the lucrative Korean noodle market until they can offer a blend that fits the market's needs.
That was the message U.S. Wheat Associates Korea Director Won Bang Koh shared with two Oregon wheat representatives Sept. 15 in Seoul.
Koh said Australian wheat producers own the lion's share of the Korean noodle market because they blend wheats to meet Korean specifications.
Northwest wheat producers will need to do the same -- and keep prices down -- to gain market share, he said.
Koh said Northwest producers already have varieties to meet Korean specifications, but would need to dramatically scale up hard white wheat production and blend it with low-protein soft wheat to accommodate Korean miller needs.
U.S. wheat growers own the largest share of the Korean wheat market, 49.3 percent to 43.8 percent for Australia, but Australia owns the more than 1 million metric ton noodle market.
About half of the 1 million metric tons U.S. wheat producers shipped to Korea last year was soft white wheat from the Northwest, which is used for making cakes and all-purpose flour.
The U.S. share of the noodle market amounts to about 250,000 metric tons of hard red winter wheat produced in Montana, North Dakota and South Dakota. Australia moved upwards of 900,000 metric tons into the Korea noodle market.
Grabbing more of the Korean noodle market would provide Northwest growers enhanced market opportunities, relieve pressure on soft white wheat supplies and help meet a valued customers needs, said Blake Rowe, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Commission and Oregon Wheat Growers League.
The good news, according to Koh, is varieties are available for mixing that could meet Korean noodle needs.
But among questions that need to be answered is whether the hard white wheat varieties currently available can produce yields attractive to Northwest wheat producers. And is it worth revamping the current system to premix soft and hard white wheat varieties from the Northwest solely for the Korean noodle market.
U.S. wheat producers and exporters currently don't offer a premixed soft white, hard white blend.
Another kernel of good news for Northwest wheat growers is that the Northwest wheat infrastructure is equipped to segregate wheat if growers and exporters decided to mix the wheat varieties.
Also promising is the fact that hard white wheat varieties in the breeding pipeline look promising, as far as providing yield and quality characteristics that can attract Northwest growers.
Read more about the Oregon agriculture trade delegation's trip to Asia at www.capitalpress.com/tradetrip2011