IN a market that normally accounts for almost half of Australia's total wheat exports, the current drought has South East Asian buyers looking for alternative exporters to fill requirements.
For Wimmera region grain grower, Julia Hausler, when the drought does break and wheat production returns to a normal season, it may well be hard going to claw back the nation's market share.
Mrs Hausler, a director of GrainGrowers, and husband, Tim, run a mixed cropping enterprise at Batchica West Farms, Warracknabeal, Victoria, and has just completed a tour of Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and Vietnam in the past several months with a delegation led by the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre (AEGIC).
She spoke from a grower's perspective of how Australia's wheat growers produce clean and hygienic grain from soil preparation, sowing, in-crop management, harvesting and delivery.
"Because of the on-going drought and resulting high grain prices, Australia is at real risk of losing market share to South East Asia," Mrs Hausler said.
"Millers and manufacturers are like well-oiled factories.
"Once they get into a mix (normally of a high proportion of Australian wheat) they get comfortable with, it works for them and other than price, there's little incentive to change.
"Because, if it works, why meddle with it?"
Millers and noodle manufacturers are all about getting their product at the right consistency.
"The origin of the grain is not as important once they have settled on the functionality," she said, explaining that functionality was a major criteria.
"The grain's origin is moot-point for the manufacturer."
Fortunately, Australia has a visible presence and voice through the AEGIC's projects of keeping the wheat industry's visibility in front of the marketers.
"Australia grows white seed coat wheat varieties which Asian noodle manufacturers seek for their colour, noodle elasticity and firmness, texture stability in hot soup style foods and milling yield," Mrs Hausler said.
"Our varieties give us a favourable advantage over northern varieties of redder colour. However, our present drought and higher prices has encouraged those millers and manufacturers to buy Black Sea wheat, trading at about $US25 a metric tonne cheaper than Australian wheat.
"In contrast, normal seasons give Western Australia a freight advantage to ship into Indonesia and it takes only eight days."
Price is important. Instant noodles sell at 26 cents AUD a packet in Thailand as against 65-80c for Australian made.