The quality of the US soft red winter wheat harvest has shown a marked decline from last year's high levels, including a sharp rise in vomitoxin levels, reflecting sodden Midwest weather earlier in the summer.
This year's harvest of soft red winter wheat, which at 14.8m tonnes this year is the largest since 2008, matched the five-year average on protein content, with a level of 9.9%, said US Wheat Associates.
However, on other quality measures, the crop – the benchmark wheat type traded in Chicago - fell short of average levels, reflecting the wetness earlier in the year in the Midwest, its core growing area, conditions which give spring crops a good start to the growing season – after rain-interrupted plantings.
"Crop development was slower than normal throughout the spring because of cool weather and harvest, once it started, was repeatedly delayed by rain," US Wheat Associates, which promotes US wheat exports, said.
"As a result, quality parameters this year vary across the states and do not match the sound values found in the 2012 crop."
On test weight, the crop came in at 76.9 kilogrammes per hectolitre (58.4 pounds per bushel), 0.4 kilogrammes per hectolitre below the average, and down from 76.9 last year.
The proportion of damaged kernels rose to 2.8%, nearly twice the average level, with most of the increase "reported to be sprout damage", a symptom of damp conditions at harvest time.
This observation was "consistent with a lower average falling number", of 294 seconds, below an average of 328 seconds, and reflecting lower starch content as kernels turn their reserves to sprouting.
On the so-called "Don" number, a measure of vomitoxin levels, the crop came in at 1.5 parts per million, above the average of 1.2 parts per million, and up from the minimal 0.2 parts per million last year.
The number, which measures the extent of toxic fungal residues, was particularly high in the eastern soft red winter wheat growing range, which includes the more minor producing states of Maryland and Virginia, where it reached 2.3 parts per million.
US safety standards permit a maximum Don count of 1 parts per million in food, and 5 parts per million in feed for most animals, except cattle, for which levels up to 10 parts per million are allowed.
Don levels can be reduced during the blending and milling process.
Hard vs soft
The results from soft red winter wheat contrast with the findings, so far, from the harvest of hard red winter wheat, growing largely in the southern Plains, but for which some fields remain to be harvested in Idaho.
The dry conditions across much of its growing range encouraged elevated protein levels, of 13.1%, above the 12.6% last year.
The falling number of 424 seconds is above last year's 409 seconds too.
Ideas of high protein have sparked talk of a reduced need for millers to blend in hard spring wheat, typically the highest-protein wheat type.
Winter vs spring
Indeed, the premium of hard red spring wheat futures, as traded in Minneapolis, over hard red winter wheat futures has near-halved over the last two months to a little over $0.30 a bushel, on a December contract basis.
In fact, the spring wheat crop looks like having a relatively low protein level, with talk from the early US harvest of "yields coming in huge and protein lower than it has been the last couple of years", Jonathan Watters at Benson Quinn Commodities said.
Minneapolis prices have been further depressed by ideas of a huge wheat crop in Canada, most of which is spring sown.