Resources Research

Making local sense of food, urban growth, population and energy

East Asia food – noodle wheat shortage and ginger-garlic speculation

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Supermarket 'udon', similar to Ramen. Photo Wikipedia

Noodle wheat? Japan and South Korea need a lot of it every year, about 800,000 tons according to industry estimates from West Australia. Noodle grade wheat requires careful blending to produce the appropriate flour. Japanese and South Korean-type noodles, such as the ‘udon‘ variety, require specialist wheat grades unlike the noodles commonly seen elsewhere, which are made from a more standard flour.

But, as Agrimoney reports, the drought in Western Australia threatens to land Japan and South Korea with a noodle shortage unless supplies of specialist wheat are carefully administered. Agrimoney has quoted top exporter CBH Group, which handles virtually all Western Australia’s grain harvest. West Australian wheat producers are worrying about how to supply noodle-grade wheat while dealing with a near-halving, to below 4m tonnes, in the state’s wheat production.

Noodle wheat typically accounts for 13-14% the state’s wheat crop. Now the shortage means noodle wheat is commanding a premium, currently at Aus$35 a tonne, which is likely to attract “opportunistic” merchants with little experience of handling the blend. Wheat growers in West Australia are being warned to avoid selling to a merchant whose bad handling of the blend might unsettle West Australia’s valuable grain trade relations with two important Asian clients.

Meanwhile, the Economic Observer of China (English) examines produce speculation in China’s agricultural market. Products being targeted according to the newspaper are garlic, ginger, honeysuckle and green beans.

Like many Japanese noodles, udon noodles are served chilled in the summer and hot in the winter. Photo Wikipedia

Shandong’s Jinxiang produces over 6 million ‘mu’ (a ‘mu’ is about 800 sq metres) of garlic. “Garlic is a reliable crop and garners steady expectations and consequently produces strong market liquidity,” said the Economic Observer. “Strong market liquidity and the availability of rural brokers, all contribute to the rapid influx of hot money. The rising price of garlic has attracted local and outside speculators.” Ginger prices have fluctuated significantly in the past few years. The newspaper reports that ginger prices were at a low of 0.4 yuan/kilo in 2008, and then skyrocketed to 4.6 yuan/kilo this year. “Speculating on ginger can generate huge profits. Like the garlic market, most of the money goes to brokers and middlemen.”

One third of prescription medications in China list honeysuckle as an ingredient; 70% of cold and flu medications use honeysuckle. “The price of honeysuckle has risen 400% this yearm” reports the Economic Observer. “Annual national demand is at 20 million kilograms but actual output hovers at 8 million kilograms. Supply of honeysuckle is dependent on distributors, who are hoarding.” Prices of green beans have surged in the past year, from 6.8 yuan/kilo to 24 yuan/kilo. “The green bean trading volume in Taonan has reached over 40 million tons, one fourth of the entire domestic market. However, most farmers have not profited from the market surge because of poor timing, pressure to pay back loans, and planting costs.”

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