United Wheat Growers chair Brian Leadley says New Zealand’s arable farmers are producing some of the best quality and yields in the world and want to see more NZ consumers getting the benefit of that.  Photo Annette Scott

An industry drive to increase the use of New Zealand-grown grain is taking off.

In a project started in 2017, the arable industry has been working towards increasing the use of NZ-grown grain through heightening consumer and end-user awareness of the benefits in using locally grown grain.

Wheat is the specific target.

Wheat production has bumped up by 40,000 tonne over the past three harvests and with this season’s milling wheat harvest showing promising signs, the project is on track.

We are looking at some good average yields, with production expected to hold up to further grow that increase this year,” United Wheat Growers (UWG) chair Brian Leadley said.

Initiated by the Arable Food Industry Council (AFIC), the project is being driven by farmers through the Foundation for Arable Research (FAR), UWG and the Federated Farmers arable section.

We are seeing increased demand from mills and good uptakes by farmers,” he said.

“It’s certainly adding options for farmers in their farm systems and the farmer support around the project is positive, with a number of new varieties in milling wheat broadening the window of opportunity for planting.

“Arable farmers love growing wheat, and we are good at it. 

“We know we are producing some of the best quality and yields in the world, and we want to see our NZ consumers getting the benefit of that.”

NZ plant breeders are also playing their part.

Agronomy plays a big part and our NZ plant breeders are introducing some good varieties that fit well with what can be achieved,” he said.

The mills are also on board.

“Contract pricing is more positive with mills hearing farmers as we ask for early indication signals around demand so we can plan planting,” he said.

“We like to see contracts out as early as possible, but the mills do need to secure their market share first, so we are looking at late-April to early-May for new season contracts.”

NZ imports 230,000t of milling wheat a year, mostly into the North Island, and while the arable industry would like a good share of that, it has to be realistic.

Current milling wheat production in NZ is an average 110,000t a year.

“Extra growth required could come but while we want to grow our market share, we have to do it in a reliable and sustainable way,” he said.

Wheat is grown on a combination of good soils and under irrigation, but there is still a seasonal element in production.

“But compared to other global producers we have more controlled risk factors than any other part of the world, so our ability to supply is reliable once we grow our volumes,” he said.

“We are very strong and consistent given the conditions we grow in.”

While the South Island mills generally use all local grain, there is a push to get more local grain produced in the North Island.

FAR general manager Ivan Lawrie says production growth is specifically focused on growing milling grains in regions where it is not normally grown, including Wairarapa, Manawatu and Hawke’s Bay.

“Our (industry) work is to ensure the varieties we are growing in these new regions and in these markets are meeting the needs of the baking industry,” Lawrie said.

Demand for durum wheat flour is going mad in one regionally-focused project.

While under its pea growing ban and looking for new crops to grow, Wairarapa’s climatic conditions and soils have proven ideal for growing speciality durum wheat.

Processed grain from last harvest has bakers and pasta makers around the country excited.

“It’s about understanding the market and determining the best way to work with growers. Feedback has been really good,” he said.

Chefs, bakers, pasta makers and growers around the country have been busy in the kitchen with new creations using the durum wheat flour from Wairarapa.

“We want to develop a regional flavour and give a good traceable provenance story around it,” he said.

While not a huge project, Lawrie says it is shining as hugely successful.

“A little but great success story that links in well and supports the bigger initiative around using NZ milling wheat,” he said.

Lawrie says there is very clear information around the quality of NZ wheat, its traceability and environmental credentials, and from that FAR is compiling information to better inform consumers and end-users of the benefits in using NZ grain.

“It is the growers and merchants of local grain who have primary interest in the local industry,” he said.

“It is our (FAR) job to convince the bakers and end-users that we are a good and fit for purpose ingredient for baking flour.

“When we have the market aligned, we will press on with issues such as infrastructure and logistics.”

In the meantime, the signals from a recent survey of consumers and end-users show that people are willing to pay for quality NZ-grown grain in their bread.