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25/07/2017

"The AETC promotes a culture of quality in the cereal production chain"

Andrea Villarino. Journalist

Cristina Molina Rosell doesn't stop: she's a research professor and Director of the Institute of Agrochemistry and Food Technology (IATA); associate professor at the University of Valencia; a member of the Spanish Celiac Disease Society; a member of the American Association for Cereal Chemists International (AACCI); Chairman of AENOR's Cereals and Derivatives sub-committee; the Spanish representative on the International and European Committees (ISO and CEN, respectively) to standardize cereals and byproducts; and, as if that wasn't enough, Chairman of the Spanish Association of Cereal Specialists (AETC).

Its research has focused on foods and mainly on the biochemical, technological and nutritional design, development and assessment of cereal products, having led dozens of research projects both in Spain and abroad.

Question- Can you tell us about the AETC and its objectives?

Answer.- In 1985, a group of specialists coincided at a seminar on flour organized by Dr. Carmen Benedito at the IATA in Valencia, driven by a desire to learn more about cereals and flours. This motivated many of them to found the AETC years later, which focuses on analyzing the quality of wheat harvests through the Trigos, or Wheat, Group. That interest arose because some of the companies where those specialists worked were already conducting quality surveys on wheat harvests. This Wheat Group shared its data for the first time at a technical conference held in Jerez in 1989, which gave rise to the AETC's current Technical Conference. The Wheat Group led to the creation of the Spanish Association of Cereal Specialists in 1992.

The AETC aims to promote a culture of quality throughout the entire cereal production chain and, for that reason, we wanted all players involved in this task (specialists, scientists and business people) in Spain to have a forum and a meeting place as members of the association. The association is comprised of various working groups focused on different topics of interest for the cereal community, and they offer a place where participants can share their expertise and work together. Moreover, we promote studies, courses and training to support sector professionals and, in short, respond to all of the industry's doubts and concerns.

Q.- How many members does the AETC have and who are they?

A.- We currently have 70 members, among them businesses but also independent specialists and scientists. The goal is to include professionals from the wheat-flour-bread chain, including farmers, processors and flour millers, cooperatives, public and private analysis and oversight laboratories, processors of flour and byproducts, services companies, academics, researchers and also consumers.

Diversity is key, since different contributions by all members is what boosts the sector's research and innovation, which is a top priority for the AETC.

Q.- What are the main projects that the AETC is working on now?

A.- The association operates through working groups in which our members participate. We currently have four groups looking to improve the way different parts of the chain work, but we're hoping to create more groups in the future because the sector is experiencing a major change in terms of farming systems, grains for making flour, and production systems and their byproducts, all driven by changes in consumer trends and lifestyles.

For example, the Analysis Methods and Interlaboratory Group was created to oversee the labs that create the Wheat Quality Survey and has become a leader in Spain as well as a developer of the Spanish Cereal Circuit. The Wheat Group is responsible for overseeing the process of preparing the annual survey, from sample collection and analysis to data interpretation. Lastly, the ACTME Milling Group was created to seek greater efficiency and quality in milling processes as well as ways to cut costs. The Planning Group aims to identify advances in flour processing to obtain byproducts such as bread, pastries, cookies, etc.

The organization, follow up and execution of the wheat quality survey in Spain is one of the AETC's main activities, and the results are presented at the annual Technical Conference. This is a study which defines the quality of the wheat harvest obtained each year in the various regions as well as the most popular varieties and the varietal purity sold. The survey is conducted in cooperation with the Spanish Cereal Foundation and the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, Food and the Environment.

This year we're committed to having more direct contact with our partners to better understand their concerns through active participation in the working groups. To that end, we have revamped our website and launched a discussion on LinkedIn, and we have greater outside support when it comes to communication. We aim to put all of these services at the disposal of all interested professionals and companies.

Q.- You're already working on the Spanish Wheat Quality Survey for 2017. What kind of harvest do you expect this year?

A.- Currently, the labs that work with us are validating the methodologies and equipment prior to data analysis and collection. With respect to the results, we expect the drought to have had a considerable impact on this year's harvest. In fact, the harvest of winter varieties is expected to be 30% to 40% lower than in 2016. Last year, 19.3 million tons were harvested, and this year the estimates are between 9.5 million tons, according to the ASAJA, and 13.4 million tons, according to the cereal warehousemen themselves.

In terms of areas, the northern meseta (plateau) is expected to be the most affected, losing between 80% and 100% of the entire harvest. In contrast, Andalusia is expected to lose around 15% of the harvest, as weather has been more favorable.

Q.- You're also preparing a new edition of your Technical Conference. What information will be shared during this edition?

A.- This year we're celebrating our 13th event, and after years of holding it in Madrid, we're going to organize it in a more appropriate location. We've chosen Valladolid, since Castile-León is a very important area for cereal production.

The conference will be held on November 7th and 8th at the Feria de Valladolid center and it will be attended by professionals from agri-food companies, consulting companies, flour millers, technology and research centers, labs and universities, and there will also be members of government present. As in previous editions, the event will cover the latest trends and advances in production and first- and second-stage processing as well as allow experts and professionals to interact and discuss issues and/or new business opportunities.

P.- The AETC is turning 25. How would you describe its first quarter of a century? What challenges does it face in the future?

A.- Broadly speaking, we're pleased with the association's performance and the work completed by our members in the various working groups; however, we're aware of current changes and new challenges, and we've been working to develop the instruments and mechanisms required to offer bigger and better services to our associates and to the entire cereal and flour sector.

The industry has changed considerably over the last 25 years, especially in terms of technological innovation and new machinery. The AETC's raison d'être is to support and guide the cereal sector so that companies can incorporate new expertise into their businesses and be more efficient and competitive.

The entire agro-food sector is facing a scenario of sweeping changes that will shape the food of the future. I think it's important to use the innovation and knowledge available and to complete an effective transfer of that knowledge so as to advance towards production that is more sustainable from an environmental, social and economic standpoint. There's also an important trend towards personalized food to respond to the specific needs of different parts of the population due to intolerances or associated with phases of growth. That's driving R&D and innovation, which is important to share and communicate to professionals, companies and consumers.

The AETC is always working with these objectives in mind, as they imply an improvement in companies' competitiveness as well as a way to offer consumers innovative, quality products that meet their needs and demands.

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