Cereal killer’s deadly touch could lead to new wheat threat

Scientists have uncovered the origins of the world’s deadliest strain of cereal rust disease which threatens global food security.

Researchers from Australia’s national science agency, CSIRO, together with partners in the US and South Africa have solved a 20-year-old mystery with findings published today in Nature Communications.

Their works shows that the devastating Ug99 strain of the wheat stem rust fungus (named for its discovery and naming in Uganda in 1999) was created when different rust strains simply fused to create a new hybrid strain.

This process is called somatic hybridisation and enables the fungi to merge their cells together and exchange genetic material without going through the complex sexual reproduction cycle.

The study found half of Ug99’s genetic material came from a strain that has been in southern Africa for more than 100 years and also occurs in Australia.

The discovery shows that other crop-destroying rust strains could hybridise in other parts of the world, and scientists found evidence of this in their study.

READ MORE: How to better manage animal diseases

It also means Ug99 could once again exchange genetic material with different pathogen strains to create a whole new enemy.

While it was proposed that rust strains could hybridise based on laboratory studies in the 1960s, this new research provides the first clear molecular evidence that this process generates new strains in nature.

Rusts are a common fungal disease of plants. Globally they destroy over $1 billion worth of crops each year. Australian crops have largely been protected for the past 60 years by the breeding of rust-resistant crop varieties.

Group Leader at CSIRO Dr Melania Figueroa said Ug99 is considered one of the most threatening of all rusts as it has managed to overcome many of the stem rust resistance genes used in wheat varieties and has evolved many variants.

“While outbreaks of Ug99 have so far been restricted to Africa and the Middle East, it has been estimated that a nationwide outbreak here could cost Australia up to $500 million in lost production and fungicide use in the first year,” Dr Figueroa said.

“There is some good news, however, as the more you know your enemy, the more equipped you are to fight against it.

“Knowing how these pathogens come about means we can better predict how they are likely to change in the future and better determine which resistance genes can be bred into wheat varieties to give long-lasting protection.”

Earlier this year, CSIRO worked with the University of Minnesota and the 2Blades Foundation to achieve good results in wheat resistance by stacking five resistance genes into the one wheat plant to combat wheat stem rust.

This latest research is the result of a collaboration between scientists from CSIRO, the University of Minnesota, University of the Free State, and Australian National University.

The breakthrough came as Dr Figueroa’s group was sequencing Ug99 (then at the University of Minnesota) and at the same time a CSIRO team led by Dr Peter Dodds was sequencing Pgt 21 in Australia.

Pgt21 is a rust strain that was first seen in South Africa in the 1920s and believed to have been carried to Australia in the 1950s by wind currents. When the two groups compared results, they found the two pathogens share an almost identical nucleus and therefore half of their DNA.

“This discovery will make it possible to develop better methods to screen for varieties with strong resistance to disease,” Dr Figueroa said.

“There was an element of serendipity at play in this work. We never expected that Ug99 and an Australian isolate might be related but only through a multi-continental collaboration was it possible to make the connections needed to achieve this discovery.”

Winter crop yields down – Rabobank

Australia is staring down the barrel of another lower-than-average winter crop, as ongoing dry weather hinders planting across much of the nation, according to Rabobank’s newly-released Australian 2019 Winter Crop Outlook.

With many major cropping regions in the eastern states – as well as South and Western Australia – having begun the season with below-average rainfall, record-low soil moisture and a less than favourable rainfall outlook, the agribusiness banking specialist says it will be “against all odds” for Australia to return to average grain and oilseed production in 2019/20, and is forecasting a total planted area of 18.4 million hectares. This is up one per cent on last year’s planting, but still down almost 13 per cent on the five-year average.
Last year’s overall Australian grain crop came in down 20 per cent to 30 million tonnes, (according to official ABARES figures) – due to severe drought in the country’s east, although WA recorded a 21 per cent increase in production to 17.1 million tonnes, its second-largest harvest ever. Overall wheat production came in at 17.3 million tonnes, the lowest in a decade.

Rabobank forecasts wheat production to again be below 20 million tonnes in 2019/20, with the current rainfall outlook supporting a projection of around 18 million tonnes.

With Australian grain stocks diminished and the estimated stocks-to-use ratio at more than 15-year lows, this will see the nation heading for another year of below-average grain and oilseed exports, the report says. For wheat, Rabobank projects exports to be in the vicinity of just 11 to 12 million tonnes, up 18 per cent year on year (YOY), but still down more than 30 per cent on the (five-year) average.

Report co-author, Rabobank senior grains and oilseeds analyst Cheryl Kalisch Gordon says the dry start to the 2019/20 season represents the third consecutive “sub-optimal planting window” for some of the most important cropping regions in Australia’s eastern states.
“The hottest summer on record and below-average rainfall – on top of two years of below average rainfall – means large areas are experiencing well-below to the-lowest-on-record root-zone soil moisture and there has been no widespread autumn break in most areas,” she said.

And the poor planting conditions are not confined to the east of the country, with parts of South Australia having their driest start to the cropping season in 150 years and almost the entire Western Australian cropping belt still waiting for a repeat of last year’s late seasonal break to “turn dust into dollars”, the report says.

Best prospects
However, it is not all bad news on the weather front, Kalisch Gordon says. Victoria and parts of southern New South Wales are, by contrast, looking at the best start to a winter crop since 2016/17.

“A major cold front that lashed parts of the eastern states at the beginning of May brought critical moisture to these regions, many of which had been heavily impacted by drought last season,” she said. “Follow-up rain has continued to replenish soil moisture levels and enabled farmers to progress towards completing their planned programs.”
And these areas offer the best prospects for helping Australia get back on track towards an average production season, she says.

East and west rebalancing
Kalisch Gordon says this year’s plantings represent a “rebalancing between east and west”, after the 2018/19 season where Western Australia did “most of the heavy lifting” with the country’s grain production.

“Any increases we are seeing in planted areas in the other states are expected to be almost netted out by the exception of Western Australia where we expect a five per cent year-on-year decline in area planted,” she said.

“In the wake of WA’s most valuable harvest in history – due to high yields and elevated prices – we expect Western Australian farmers to take a conservative approach to winter planting, given the dry conditions and uncertain outlook there.”

Dry sowing and expected yields
With the largely moisture-depleted start to this year’s Australia’s cropping season, Rabobank says a high rate of dry sowing has been undertaken by growers across the country.

“And this, together with opportunistic use of storm rainfall, as well as the good rains in some areas, is what is set to see a one per cent year-on-year increase in planted area,” Dr Kalisch Gordon said. But yields are not expected to be high

“Despite this marginal recovery in planted area, currently forecast seasonal conditions support below-average yields for most areas,” she said.

Big swings
There will be big swings in crops planted, the Rabobank report says, away from canola and pulses to cereals.

“The pivot towards more wheat and barley that we saw last season is expected to be followed again this year, due to the higher local prices we have in cereals and their less risky production dynamics when there are uncertain seasonal conditions,” Dr Kalisch Gordon said.

Rabobank expects cereal crops to make up 81 per cent of Australia’s planted area – up on the five-year average of 79 per cent.

The bank forecasts Australian grain prices to remain in higher ranges over the coming year. Lower forecast local production, depleted local stocks and some support for global cereal pricing will keep Australian prices above five-year averages.

“East coast Australia wheat prices will continue to trade at above-average basis levels while stocks rebuild and another below-average harvest volume is on the cards,” Dr Kalisch Gordon said.

“For barley, while increased planting will help moderate prices this year, the prospects for low production and our expectation that China may need to return to the Australian market for barley for malting in the second half of this year are likely to see prices gain again from current levels.”

The fallout from increased protectionism will continue to weigh on canola and pulse price prospects, the report says.

“China’s 25 per cent tariff on US soybeans and the Chinese ban on Canadian canola are more than enough to weigh on oilseed markets, but when Brazil is expecting its second-largest soybean harvest on record and China will have reduced demand for soybeans as a consequence of African Swine Fever, the weight is magnified,” Dr Kalisch Gordon said. “Meanwhile, reduced expectations that India will relax its import barriers will also limit pulse price increases.”

Kalisch Gordon says low crop production and strong local prices will once again curtail Australia’s export competitiveness in 2019/20, as they had last season.

“And the increased use of Black Sea and Argentinian-origin wheat in our export markets in South East Asia is expected to present a disruption to Australia’s market positioning when our exportable surpluses do return to average,” she said.

Anthony Pratt: Value-added food will pave way for Australian exports

Anthony Pratt, chair of packaging and recycling giant Visy, said that processed foods are what drives investment and jobs in the food and beverage sector. Making the keynote address at the 7th Global Food Forum in Sydney, Pratt – who has been a champion of the forum since its inception – had the facts and figures to back up his point.

When the forum first started in 2013, it challenged the industry to double Australia’s food exports by 2030. After seven years, the country is 75 per cent of the way there, according to Pratt.

“Despite this year’s drought, our farmers and food processors managed to grow our safe, high-quality food exports from $29 billion to $40 billion over that time,” he said. “This is testament to the constant focus of the food community, our world-class farmers, food processors and governments who have got free trade agreements with Japan, Korea, Indonesia and China.”

However, the main plank of his speech was to encourage food processors and farmers to work together and start adding value to our primary food resources. And with good reason when you see how Pratt joins the dots.

“Value adding drives Australian investment and jobs,” he said. “For example, wheat sells for a $100 a tonne. If you turn it into flour it sells for $500 a tonne, and if you turn that flour into bread it sells for $5000 a tonne. Adding value through further processing, or adding value at horticulture, is better than selling bulk commodities like wheat, which undersells the value of our farmer’s expertise.”

And it’s not just because that a food in the form of a commodity undersells the potential monetary yield a particular food resource can maximise, but there is evidence that even when there is a trade war, added valued products do better.

“Because of the current US/Sino trade war, America’s commodities soya bean exports to China took a 46 per cent hit,” he said. “But incredibly, America’s exports of higher value foods to China, increased, with cheese up five per cent and ice cream up 20 per cent during the same trade war period. What is the difference between soya beans and ice-cream? It is the difference between bulk commodities and high-value processed foods.”

Pratt’s final point when it came to the food sector, is that of productivity. Something he believes will be enhanced by new technologies coming through.

“The problem with low hanging fruit is that it is getting harder to get pickers who want to do the back breaking work,” said Pratt. “As a result, sometimes up to 20 per cent of produce is left on the vine, which is why I am championing the productivity campaign called No Fruit Left Behind. Productivity can be helped if we lift the amount we spend on agtech. Everyone believes that agtech is our future, [yet] we currently spend [only] $0.12 cents per person a year on agtech. In America, they spend $5.80 per person per year. That is 50 times more…than Australia.”

Study establishes new method of developing disease-resistance in crops

Researchers have pioneered a new method to rapidly recruit disease-resistance genes from wild plants for transfer into domestic crops, a technique which could revolutionise the development of disease-resistant varieties for the global food supply.

The technique called AgRenSeq was developed by scientists at the John Innes Centre in Britain working with colleagues in Australia and the US. The research has been published in Nature Biotechnology.

The result speeds up the fight against pathogens that threaten global food crops, including wheat, soyabean, maize, rice and potato, which form the vast bulk of cereals in the human diet.

Professor Harbans Bariana from the Sydney Institute of Agriculture and the School of Life and Environmental Sciences is a global expert in cereal rust genetics and a co-author of the paper.

“This technology will underpin fast-tracked discovery and characterization of new sources of disease resistance in plants,” Bariana said.

The current research builds on previous collaborative work done by Professor Bariana with the CSIRO and the John Innes Centre. It used two wheat genes cloned by this international team as controls and Professor Bariana conducted the phenotype assessments for the study.

AgRenSeq lets researchers search a library of resistance genes discovered in wild relatives of modern crops so they can rapidly identify sequences associated with disease fighting capability.

From there researchers can use laboratory techniques to clone the genes and introduce them into elite varieties of domestic crops to protect them against pathogens and pests such as rusts, powdery mildew and Hessian fly.

Dr Brande Wulff, a crop genetics project leader at the John Innes Centre and a lead author of the study, said they had found a way to scan the genome of a wild relative of a crop plant and pick out the resistance genes needed in record time.

“This used to be a process that took 10 or 15 years and was like searching for a needle in a haystack,” Wulff said.

“We have perfected the method so that we can clone these genes in a matter of months and for just thousands of dollars instead of millions.”

The research reveals that AgRenSeq has been successfully trialled in a wild relative of wheat – with researchers identifying and cloning four resistance genes for the devastating stem rust pathogen in the space of months. This process would easily take a decade using conventional means.

The work in wild wheat is being used as a proof of concept, preparing the way for the method to be utilised in protecting many crops which have wild relatives including, soyabean, pea, cotton, maize, potato, wheat, barley, rice, banana and cocoa.

Modern elite crops have, in the search for higher yields and other desirable agronomic traits, lost a lot of genetic diversity especially for disease resistance.

Reintroducing disease resistance genes from wild relatives is an economic and environmentally sustainable approach to breeding more resilient crops. However, introgression of these genes into crops is a laborious process using traditional breeding methods.

The new method combines high-throughput DNA sequencing with state-of-the-art bioinformatics.

“What we have now is a library of disease resistance genes and we have developed an algorithm that enables researchers to quickly scan that library and find functional resistance genes,” said Dr Sanu Arora, the first author of the paper from the John Innes Centre.

Wulff said that the study’s results demonstrate that AgRenSeq is a robust protocol for rapidly discovering resistance genes from a genetically diverse panel of a wild crop relative.

“If we have an epidemic, we can go to our library and inoculate that pathogen across our diversity panel and pick out the resistance genes,” he said.

“Using speed cloning and speed breeding we could deliver resistance genes into elite varieties within a couple of years, like a phoenix rising from the ashes.”

Victoria scientists pave way for faster precision breeding of wheat

Agriculture Victoria scientists have helped crack a genetic code that provides a new foundation to improve production and response to disease threats.

The work provides a new foundation to enhance wheat quality and better prepare an industry adapting to climate change.

The journal Science published the world’s first detailed road map of the wheat genome today, paving the way for faster precision breeding of improved varieties of what is a key global food crop.

Wheat is the most widely-cultivated crop on earth, contributing $6 billion in export revenue to the Australian economy each year.

READ: CSIRO helps develop high-fibre wheat

While a common food ingredient, its genetic makeup is so complex that the wheat genome is equivalent to a 16-billion-piece puzzle.

The publication is a culmination of 13 years of research by Agriculture Victoria honorary research fellow, Professor Rudi Appels, along with a team of Agriculture Victoria scientists and the International Wheat Genome Sequencing Consortium.

Appels was one of four founders and a lead researcher on the project, which has 202 co-investigators from 73 institutions across 20 countries.

“In other plant and animal species, access to a fully annotated and ordered genome has accelerated the development of important traits,” he said.

“Wheat has lagged behind other crop species because of the complexity of its genome, so today’s publication of the 21 fully annotated chromosomes of the bread wheat genome is a transformational leap for science and industry,” said Appels.

“It provides a foundation for the genetically complex task of developing varieties with improved yield and quality, without compromising regional adaptation to stresses,” he said.

“This breakthrough has significant implications for the Australian wheat industry as it enables us to tackle challenges such as adapting wheat for changing climatic conditions and to use fertiliser more efficiently,” said Appels.

The Australian research was largely conducted at the AgriBio Centre for AgriBioscience in Victoria.

“Australia brings to the table world-class capabilities for agricultural genomics research, including next generation sequencing and advanced scientific computing, as well as internationally recognised scientists. AgriBio’s capabilities have enabled us to make a significant contribution to the international effort to fully sequence and annotate the genome of bread wheat,” said Appels.

Appels, with Agriculture Victoria scientists, led the Australian effort to sequence the 7A chromosome – one of the 21 chromosomes of the bread wheat genome.

“Chromosome 7A is critical in determining components of yield and flour quality attributes in wheat grown in Australia,” said Appels.

Support for this effort was led by the Grains Research and Development Corporation, and Bioplatforms Australia through the Australian Government’s National Collaborate Research Infrastructure Strategy.

CSIRO helps develop high-fibre wheat

The Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation is part of an international team that has developed a new type of wheat with 10 times the amount of fibre of regular wheat. Read more

Wheat genome decoded to enhance food security

University of Western Australia researchers from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology have published the most comprehensive analysis of a wheat genome as part of a United Kingdom-led consortium.

The new sequencing of the bread wheat genome, led by the Earlham Institute, identified complete sets of genes and proteins essential to important agronomic traits.

According to The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, global crop yields must double by 2050 to meet future food security needs. Globally, wheat is one of the most important staple crops, providing a fifth of daily calories. Extensive knowledge of the wheat genome is needed to increase wheat yield in the future.

The most well-known genome project, The Human Genome Project, was completed in 2003 and   the genomes of many organisms, including some plants, have also been decoded. However, despite the agricultural importance of wheat, the large size and hexaploid structure of its genome has made it historically difficult to fully sequence its chromosomes.

“The wheat genome contains 17 billion bases – that’s five times the size of the human genome,” said Professor Harvey Millar from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, co-author of the study.

“The success of this research was based on new technologies that solved longstanding problems in determining the structure of wheat’s large hexaploid genome”.

The new genome assembly, published in the journal Genome Research, predicts a large number of previously unknown wheat genes and defines where they are located along chromosomes. The UWA researchers led the protein analysis research that provided direct evidence that many of these genes coded for molecular machinery important for wheat growth and development, protection of wheat from diseases and resistance to harsh environments.

“Evidence for over half of the predicted protein-coding genes in the new wheat genome assembly and annotation was found through our research” said Dr Owen Duncan from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology, co-author of the study.

“This data helps researchers sift through the immense complexity of the wheat genome to identify which parts are playing an active role in the growth and development of wheat”.

Over one thousand wheat disease resistance genes and their locations in the genome were revealed by the study. The knowledge will greatly aid marker assisted breeding of wheat disease traits. Also identified were over one hundred gluten genes, the analysis of which will be vital to changing gluten content in wheat.

The collaboration combined advances in genome sequencing and assembly technology from researchers based in Norwich, England at the Earlham Institute and the John Innes Centre with leading protein mass spectrometry data from the ARC Centre of Excellence in Plant Energy Biology at the University of Western Australia.

Changing climate has stalled Australian wheat yields: study

Australia’s wheat yields more than trebled during the first 90 years of the 20th century but have stalled since 1990. In research published today in Global Change Biology, we show that rising temperatures and reduced rainfall, in line with global climate change, are responsible for the shortfall.

This is a major concern for wheat farmers, the Australian economy and global food security as the climate continues to change. The wheat industry is typically worth more than A$5 billion per year – Australia’s most valuable crop. Globally, food production needs to increase by at least 60% by 2050, and Australia is one of the world’s biggest wheat exporters.

There is some good news, though. So far, despite poorer conditions for growing wheat, farmers have managed to improve farming practices and at least stabilise yields. The question is how long they can continue to do so.

Worsening weather

While wheat yields have been largely the same over the 26 years from 1990 to 2015, potential yields have declined by 27% since 1990, from 4.4 tonnes per hectare to 3.2 tonnes per hectare.

Potential yields are the limit on what a wheat field can produce. This is determined by weather, soil type, the genetic potential of the best adapted wheat varieties and sustainable best practice. Farmers’ actual yields are further restricted by economic considerations, attitude to risk, knowledge and other socio-economic factors.

While yield potential has declined overall, the trend has not been evenly distributed. While some areas have not suffered any decline, others have declined by up to 100kg per hectare each year.

We found this decline in yield potential by investigating 50 high-quality weather stations located throughout Australia’s wheat-growing areas.

Analysis of the weather data revealed that, on average, the amount of rain falling on growing crops declined by 2.8mm per season, or 28% over 26 years, while maximum daily temperatures increased by an average of 1.05℃.

To calculate the impact of these climate trends on potential wheat yields we applied a crop simulation model, APSIM, which has been thoroughly validated against field experiments in Australia, to the 50 weather stations.

Climate variability or climate change?

There is strong evidence globally that increasing greenhouse gases are causing rises in temperature.

Recent studies have also attributed observed rainfall trends in our study region to anthropogenic climate change.

Statistically, the chance of observing the decline in yield potential over 50 weather stations and 26 years through random variability is less than one in 100 billion.

We can also separate the individual impacts of rainfall decline, temperature rise and more CO₂ in the atmosphere (all else being equal, rising atmospheric CO₂ means more plant growth).

First, we statistically removed the rising temperature trends from the daily temperature records and re-ran the simulations. This showed that lower rainfall accounted for 83% of the decline in yield potential, while temperature rise alone was responsible for 17% of the decline.

Next we re-ran our simulations with climate records, keeping CO₂ at 1990 levels. The CO₂ enrichment effect, whereby crop growth benefits from higher atmospheric CO₂ levels, prevented a further 4% decline relative to 1990 yields.

So the rising CO₂ levels provided a small benefit compared to the combined impact of rainfall and temperature trends.

Closing the yield gap

Why then have actual yields remained steady when yield potential has declined by 27%? Here it is important to understand the concept of yield gaps, the difference between potential yields and farmers’ actual yields.

An earlier study showed that between 1996 and 2010 Australia’s wheat growers achieved 49% of their yield potential – so there was a 51% “yield gap” between what the fields could potentially produce and what farmers actually harvested.

Averaged out over a number of seasons, Australia’s most productive farmers achieve about 80% of their yield potential. Globally, this is considered to be the ceiling for many crops.

Wheat farmers are closing the yield gap. From harvesting 38% of potential yields in 1990 this increased to 55% by 2015. This is why, despite the decrease in yield potential, actual yields have been stable.

Impressively, wheat growers have adopted advances in technology and adapted them to their needs. They have adopted improved varieties as well as improved practices, including reduced cultivation (or “tillage”) of their land, controlled traffic to reduce soil compaction, integrated weed management and seasonally targeted fertiliser use. This has enabled them to keep pace with an increasingly challenging climate.

What about the future?

Let’s assume that the climate trend observed over the past 26 years continues at the same rate during the next 26 years, and that farmers continue to close the yield gap so that all farmers reach 80% of yield potential.

If this happens, we calculate that the national wheat yield will fall from the recent average of 1.74 tonnes per hectare to 1.55 tonnes per hectare in 2041. Such a future would be challenging for wheat producers, especially in more marginal areas with higher rates of decline in yield potential.

While total wheat production and therefore exports under this scenario will decrease, Australia can continue to contribute to future global food security through its agricultural research and development.

The Conversation

Zvi Hochman, Senior Principal Research Scientist, Farming Systems, CSIRO; David L. Gobbett, Spatial data analyst, CSIRO, and Heidi Horan, Cropping Systems Modeller, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australia set to manufacture ancient superfood

According to a story in The Lead, the demand for an ancient superfood is being met by an Adelaide company.

Freekeh, a process of heating immature green grain to halt maturation without cooking it, was developed in the Middle East in about 2300BC.

Greenwheat Freekeh has been producing the superfood commercially in South Australia since 1997 and managing director Tony Lutfi said his company was the only major producer of commercial freekeh in the world.

“I started examining the process and experimenting in 1995, then in 1996 developed the process and in 1997 built the company in Adelaide and started exporting it to the rest of the world.

Lutfi said a new plant being built on the outskirts of Adelaide will increase production up to seven-fold by 2018.

“We were able to produce 500t this year using our existing plant and next year we are expecting to produce between 1500 and 2000t and the year after between 3000 and 3500t.”

Greenwheat Freekah is a great example of an Australian food manufacturing company thinking global and not just local,” said Patrick Robinson from Invest Adelaide.

“Our reputation for high quality, safe and environmentally friendly food in overseas markets that will require a lot of food imports in the future makes investment in food manufacturing here in Adelaide a very viable proposition.”

Lutfi said his company had experimented with durum wheat, barley, triticale, and oats and recently signed an agreement in Asia to look at the production of green rice freekeh.

He said his freekeh was exported to about 12 countries including the USA, Canada, UK, France, Spain and Japan and was also experiencing strong growth in Australia.

“We capture the grain at peak taste and nutrition when it’s young and green and we put it through a natural process to lock in the nutritional value of that grain so you can have it a year or two later and still enjoy the health benefits,” Lutfi said.

Why do people decide to go gluten- or wheat-free?

At different times, fat, sodium, carbohydrates, sugar and protein have all been targeted as “bad” dietary factors. Right now the focus seems to have shifted to gluten: a protein found in cereal grains, especially wheat but also rye, barley and oats.

For a small proportion of consumers such as those diagnosed with coeliac disease or wheat allergy, the avoidance of wheat and other gluten-containing foods is essential. Symptoms for sufferers can include nausea, vomiting, cramping, bloating, abdominal pain, fatigue and even very serious conditions such as liver disease.

The prevalence in the population of coeliac disease and wheat allergy, while significant, sits between 1-2%.

But consumer foods labelled as either “gluten-free” or “lactose-free” are growing. And restrictive diets such as paleo – which advocates eliminating grain and dairy products – are also growing in popularity. This suggests a lot more people are making the choice to go gluten- or wheat-free over and above those with a diagnosed allergy.

To understand more about this trend CSIRO conducted a nationwide survey of nearly 1,200 people selected at random from the Australian electoral roll. The aim of the research was not only to quantify the prevalence of wheat avoidance in Australia but also to understand why they made this decision.

Wheat avoidance in Australia

The survey revealed that as many as one in ten Australian adults, or approximately 1.8 million people, were avoiding or limiting their consumption of wheat-based products. Women were more likely to be avoiding wheat than men.

The survey also revealed that more than half (53%) of those who were avoiding wheat were also avoiding dairy-based foods.

Why is this an issue? According to current Australian Dietary Guidelines, grain- and dairy-based foods are important components of a balanced diet. They contribute significantly to the daily dietary fibre and calcium intake of both adults and children. They also deliver other important nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals, and if eating whole grain, resistant starch.


Wheat is also high in fibre, which our body needs. Brenda Wiley/Flickr, CC BY


So why are people choosing to avoid wheat?

The reasons behind this decision are complex. Some respondents reported that they were avoiding wheat due to a diagnosis of coeliac disease (1.1%), or because a family member has been diagnosed with coeliac disease. Others stated they were avoiding wheat for weight-control or taste preferences.

However, the vast majority of the survey’s wheat-avoiding respondents – which equates to 7% of non-coeliac Australians – were avoiding wheat-containing foods to manage a range of adverse symptoms they attributed to the consumption of these products. Symptoms were mostly gastrointestinal in nature (bloating, wind and abdominal cramps) but also included fatigue/tiredness.

When asked if they had any formal diagnosis, including that of an intolerance, allergy or coeliac disease, which required them to avoid wheat, most (84%) of these symptomatic individuals said no.

So what sources are people relying on when it comes to making decisions such as avoiding wheat?

There is a great deal of information that links the consumption of specific foods to adverse symptoms. According to our data, those who decide to eliminate wheat tend to do so based on advice from sources such as complementary practitioners like naturopaths, family, friends, the media and to a lesser extent their GP or a medical specialist.

Is wheat really so bad?

Until recently it was thought that gluten was only really a problem for individuals with coeliac disease. Our findings, plus the extraordinary rise in popularity of the gluten-free diet in Australia and elsewhere, suggest that, apart from coeliac disease and wheat allergy, other conditions associated with the ingestion of wheat are emerging as health care concerns.

Currently, the driver of most of the research activity in this area is the concept of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS). NCGS is defined as adverse (but not allergic) reactions to the consumption of gluten, where gastrointestinal symptoms improve on a gluten-free diet.

Many aspects of NCGS remain unclear, including how prevalent it is, how it presents itself, the variation in symptoms and how to treat it. There is also considerable debate as to whether it is in fact gluten or some other component of wheat that triggers the reported symptoms.

Fructans, for example, are short-chain carbohydrates which are found in wheat-based products. For a proportion of the general population, fructans, along with other short-chain carbohydrates (collectively called FODMAPS), can trigger symptoms such as bloating, wind or cramps by holding water in the gut or through the rapid production of gas by intestinal bacteria.

For these people, finding out what is actually causing their symptoms can be difficult because they’re most likely avoiding more than one dietary component at a time.

Until we know more, there’s a risk that a significant proportion of Australians are undertaking diets that are unnecessarily restrictive and potentially creating nutritional imbalances.

That the majority of those with symptoms appear to be bypassing conventional medical advice is also of concern. This means more serious clinical conditions could be going undetected.

The Conversation

Sinead Golley, Postdoctoral research fellow, CSIRO

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Australian exports benefiting from Indonesian wheat demands

A significant growth in Indonesia’s demand for the import of meat and produce is set to benefit Australian exporters.

Demand for meat, dairy products and fruit and vegetables have quickly grown as Indonesia’s affluent urban population becomes more integrated within the market.

According to Abares, the Ministry of Agriculture’s commodity forecaster, the market will be worth US$150bn assuming that there are no significant changes to agricultural productivity growths.

“In the case of Indonesia, the current consumption level per person is relatively low. But with income growth, for the future we expect that demand will increase quite significantly over the period to 2050,” the report said.

Indonesia is Australia’s largest export market for wheat, with more than half of Indonesia’s imported wheat (representing 20 per cent of Australia’s total wheat exports) coming from Australia in 2014.

Wheat is the major winter crop grown in Australia with sowing starting in autumn and harvesting, depending on seasonal conditions, occurring in spring and summer. The main producing states are Western Australia, New South Wales, South Australia, Victoria and Queensland.

The majority of Australian wheat is sold overseas with Western Australia the largest exporting state. The major export markets are in the Asian and Middle East regions and include Indonesia, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, Vietnam and Sudan.

Wheat grown for domestic consumption and feedstock is predominately produced on the east coast.

New Code of Practice clarifies whole grains across the food industry

A new Code of Practice has been developed to ensure consistent messaging on the whole grain content of foods to set a standard for labelling the widely-ranging content food choices.

The Code of Practice for Whole Grain Ingredient Content Claims incorporates the latest consumption and research trends to present suggestions on the best method to educate consumers on searching for whole grain foods.

Delegates and representatives from 15 major companies who took up a leadership role in signing up were brought together to align their use of whole grain ingredient content claims.

Grains and Legumes Nutrition Council (GLNC) Code Manager, Chris Cashman, said “Consumers are being provided with more consistent descriptions on foods via the use of the whole grain claim levels, the whole grain Daily Target Intake statement and factual statements about the whole grain content of foods aligned with the Code on pack and in product promotions. This allows them to seek out foods higher in whole grain.”

In order to ensure the ongoing success of the Code, continued uptake by the food industry is needed across the spectrum of products eligible to use whole grain claims.

Whole grain foods are not only universally endorsed by evidence based Dietary Guidelines around the world, recent reviews continue to support higher whole grain intakes for improved health.

GLNC is committed to educating consumers on the benefits of whole grain through its communications strategy and its cooperation with the food industry, closing the gap between whole grain intakes and whole grain recommendations for adequate nutrition and disease risk reduction. 

Australians making the switch to gluten as gluten-free labelling increases

A nationwide survey conducted by the CSIRO has found that a greater number of people are making the choice to go gluten or wheat-free as consumer foods are increasingly labelled as either gluten or lactose free. 

In recent decades, the focus on ‘bad’ dietary factors has shifted to gluten: a protein found in cereal grains such as rye, barley and oats. For consumers diagnosed with a wheat allergy, the avoidance of wheat and other gluten-containing foods is essential. 

Food billed as “gluten-free” isn’t necessarily healthier. Gluten-free products can be high in calories, fat and carbohydrates, leading some people to gain weight when going gluten free. 
With coeliac disease, the body’s immune system reacts to consuming gluten by damaging the lining of the small intestine, which interferes with the body’s ability to absorb nutrients. Gluten intolerant or sensitive people experience negative reactions to gluten, but do not actually have coeliac disease. 

To add to the confusion, you can also have a wheat allergy, which is an aversion to wheat itself, so a gluten-free product may not necessarily be OK for those with a wheat allergy. With so many different causes, conditions and symptoms, diagnosis is extremely hard, and there is a lot of misinformation about gluten.

The data collected revealed that as many as 1 in 10 Australian adults, or approximately 1.8 million people, were currently avoiding or limiting their consumption of wheat-based products –with women more likely to be avoiding wheat on average than men. 

According to current Australian Dietary Guidelines, both grain and dairy based foods are an important part of a balanced diet through contributing to the daily dietary fibre and calcium intake of both adults and children.

“Our findings, plus the extraordinary rise in popularity of the gluten-free diet in Australia and elsewhere, suggest that, apart from the coeliac disease and wheat allergy, other conditions associated with the ingestion of wheat are emerging as health care concerns. Currently, the driver of most of the research activity in this area is the concept of non-coeliac gluten sensitivity (NCGS),” CSIRO said on it’s blog website.

CSIRO believes that the significant proportion of Australians undertaking restrictive diets may pose the potential danger of associated nutritional imbalances. A majority of symptomatic respondents appeared to be bypassing conventional medical advice in their decision to go wheat-free, raising the potential risk of a clinical condition going undetected. 


Saltmine redesigns Tip Top packaging

Sydney brand design agency, Saltmine Design Group has redesigned the Tip Top product packaging to promote what it calls its "leadership in the bread category.“

George Weston Foods commissioned Saltmine to reinvigorate the Tip Top brand, which has been in the market for over 50 years, with the objective to realign the brand and product range.

As the largest brand in the category, Tip Top saw the opportunity to create a powerful new masterbrand visual identity.

Sara Salter, Managing Director at Saltmine says, “We are very excited to be working on such an iconic Australian brand. Key to this projects success was staying true to the brands heritage whilst also creating a fresh new look that would allow Tip Top to strengthen it’s leadership in the bread category.“

Saltmine introduced a red swoosh device to the brand’s visual identity, which is almost as important as the brandmark itself.  The ‘swoosh’ is used on-pack to frame the window which highlights the product, and in communications, as a border to highlight products and increase the brand colour.

The Tip Top brand is known for its nutritious and tasty bakery goods and Saltmine wanted to convey this on-pack by bringing to life the food and health credentials that the brand was previously lacking.  Falling wheat, grains and fruit were used to re-inject food cues and add appetite appeal to the previously static pack design, the brand design agency said.

Speaking about the new Tip Top visual identity, George Weston Foods, Group Marketing Manager, Justine Cotter, said “The new visual identity developed by Saltmine for the Tip Top masterbrand provides a strong, unified look for the brand and positions TIP TOP as a market leader.”

Bread production in Australia: rising to new challenges

According to industry analysts, IBISWorld, Australia’s bread industry is not only going through a number of changes – its also facing challenges that is forcing it to both rationalise and innovate, writes Branko Miletic.

The recently released (July 2015) IBISWorld Industry Report has found that bread manufacturers are facing numerous challenges. This has particularly been the case over the past five years. 
Growing competition from supermarkets’ instore bakeries and the consumer shift away from factory-baked bread towards specialty and artisan retailers have caused the industry’s share of the overall bread market to fall. 

Additionally, volatility in prices over the past five years has dampened industry growth prospects and squeezed profit margins. 
Evolving nutritional concerns, especially those relating to carbohydrate consumption and the related increases in gluten intolerance, have all combined to work against the industry. 

However, the report also found that the industry’s prospects, modest as they may be, present a number of niche growth opportunities. The functional and fortified bread segment for example is expected to drive demand, as are new low-carb and other healthier bread offerings that appeal to increasingly health-conscious consumers. 

The best thing since sliced bread
Increasing demand for specialty high-value breads will drive growth in niche and artisan bread products over the next five years. Bake-at-home products, par-baked and flash-baked premium bread products targeted at the food – service sector will also drive growth. 
However, industry growth will be restrained by competition from instore supermarket bakeries, as Coles and Woolworths continue their aggressive push into the fresh food segment.  As a result of these conflicting variables, IBISWorld expects industry revenue to grow by an annualised 1.8 per cent over the next five years, to total $2.8 billion in 2020-21.

It's all about the dough
According to the IBISWorld report, in 2015-16, industry revenue is expected to grow by 1.7 per cent, mainly driven by the increasing number of premium products offered, and new pricing models.
In 2015-16, industry revenue is forecast to reach $USD2.6 billion. Although growth is weak, it is still an improvement relative to the industry’s performance in 2010-11 and 2011-12. 

It's breadsticks at 10 paces
Over the past five years, the bread industry has faced intense competitive pressures that have pushed down both prices and volumes for numerous participants.
To combat downward margin pressures, many operators have attempted to improve production efficiency by increasing automation, however, the report noted there has also been a growing focus among operators on higher margin products, including artisanal breads. Revenue from Goodman Fielder’s artisan bread business for example increased by 75.0 per cent in 2013-14. 

Another significant threat comes from supermarkets aggressively increasing their share of private-label bread by baking their products instore, to compete directly with franchise bakeries and branded bread products. Sales of private- label bread have increased over the past decade, and now account for more than 30 per cent of retail supermarket bread sales. 

Bread pricing wars have driven this development, with the two supermarket giants attempting to attract customers and gain market share in the bakery products segment by selling $0.85 loaves. Coles and Woolworths together control over 70 per cent of the grocery market, with private-label products accounting for nearly one in three products on supermarket shelves. At the same time, it is interesting to note that George Weston has supplied home-brand bread to Woolworths for the past decade, while Goodman Fielder supplies rival Coles.

Taking the (white) bread out of our mouths
Australians have also become more sophisticated in their bread consumption said IBISWorld, opting for a greater variety of international and artisan breads. This includes seeded, wholemeal, organic and gluten-free loaves, along with sourdough, rye breads and focaccias. 

The increase in the number of artisan bakeries, particularly in capital cities, is further testament to this trend. Some industrial bread manufacturers are seeking to exploit these changing consumer tastes, widening their product ranges to incorporate more premium products as they gradually move away from the traditional white loaf said the report.
The industry’s performance will also be influenced by the rise of external competitors. Instore supermarket bakeries and artisan bakeries, which are not included in the industry, are a considerable threat. 

Coles and Woolworths together operate over 1200 instore bakeries, and this number is forecast to rise over the five years through 2020-21 as they continue their aggressive push into the fresh food market. In response, industry players will need to focus on catering to the increasingly sophisticated tastes of the foodservice sector, to counter volume and pricing pressures. 
Added to this figure is the higher consumer expenditure on restaurant and cafe food, which in the medium term is expected to translate into stronger demand for artisan breads, including a range of sourdough, ciabatta and flatbread varieties.

Gives us this day, our daily bread
The rise of health consciousness is known to be the primary driver of innovation for the industry, which is in the decline phase of its lifecycle. Growth in demand for healthier and more convenient substitute foods, such as snacks, biscuits, cereals and fruit, will partly lower the demand for bread. 
This will be particularly true for factory-produced white bread. However, the continued introduction of new premium and ‘better-for-you’ products such as fortified breads, gluten-free loaves, high protein bread and fruit or nut breads will help offset this trend, as bread manufacturers market towards health-conscious consumers.

In the five years through 2020-21, industry revenue is expected to increase by an annualised 1.8 per cent to total $USD2.8 billion. This includes growth of 1.3 per cent in 2016-17. Despite revenue growth, enterprise, establishment and employment numbers are expected to continue declining as the industry continues to consolidate. 
On a brighter note, a shift towards higher value artisan breads and other premium bread products will help boost profit margins, partially offsetting the effects of intense competition.  According to most industry pundits, international trade will remain negligible.

Kneading to know the future
Over the next five years, the IBISWorld report predicts growth in high-margin premium breads is likely to drive revenue growth. However, this positive trend will be largely offset by the growth of private-label supermarket products that are baked instore. 
Branded industrial producers of bread, such as Goodman Fielder, are expected to respond to changing consumption trends by altering their product mixes to reflect demand for gourmet and artisan breads. 
Despite this shift, white bread still accounts for 43 per cent of total bread sales and will remain the dominant product segment until there is significant narrowing of the price difference between artisan and industrially baked bread.

Production levels will be dictated by downstream demand. Industry players are expected to face a tightly contested domestic market as retail and supermarket bakeries gain market share, particularly in specialty product segments. This means that growth in the volume of bread produced will depend on the major participants’ success in developing high-value products. 

The wider introduction of higher margin branded products, and their increasing importance in the industry’s product range, will play a role in raising prices. An opportunity for some players exists in expanding food-service sector offerings, to meet the growing demand for pre-baked artisan breads with quick preparation times.

Laucke launches single origin flour from Kangaroo Island

For many years, Laucke Flour Mills Managing Director Mark Laucke has been crafting products derived from grains of known and traceable sources in the same way the wine industry produces wine from selected varieties and regions. 

“Unique food and wine is pivotal to Australia’s prosperity and central to its identity,” Mr Laucke said.

“Just like their wine industry counterparts — the best grain growers take pride in their high quality produce derived from clean air, water, soils and pristine seed stocks,” he said.

“In a world where food safety concerns are growing, South Australia is pioneering ‘paddock to plate’ traceability and leading food safety certification, ensuring absolute confidence and peace of mind for domestic and international consumers,” Mr Laucke said.

That opportunity has been realised this month with the launch of Laucke Flour Mills’ Single Origin Kangaroo Flours – ‘Classic’ and ‘Rising’— both milled from grain traceable to its Kangaroo Island origins.

“We are enormously proud to be partnering with the farmers of Kangaroo Island, who have grasped the opportunity and developed the sophistication to produce and supply us with grain that is identifiable, certified, tracked and documented,” Mr Laucke said.

“The iconic, pristine, and natural environment of Kangaroo Island is separated from the Australian mainland by 22 km and therefore offers a provenance unique to the world.

“The region’s soil and natural environment produces a range of unique flavoured local foods and beverages —such as wines, cheese, olives, and honey —and grains are no exception.

“Nowhere else in the world replicates the grains as grown from the purity of the water, air and soil of Kangaroo Island.” 

“We can track the provenance of the grain from the actual paddock—where that vintage of their grain was grown – all the way through to careful segregation and milling, where the unique characteristics of the wheat are retained within the flour,” Mr Laucke said.

Laucke Flour Mills Single Origin Kangaroo Flour –  ‘Classic’ and ‘Rising’ are both available in Woolworths, and selected independent grocery stores in the coming weeks.