Low protein 'main concern' for UK wheat

Depressed protein levels represent the "main concern" for the UK wheat harvest, consultancy Adas said as it revealed strong results from other quality specifications as farmers step up the pace of harvesting.

Britain's farmers harvested 650,000 hectares of crops last week, an area roughly the size of Devon, the third biggest county, and up from 500,000 hectares the week before, helped by weather which has been largely dry unlike in many other parts of Europe.

"Just under 40% of the British cereals and oilseed rape area has been harvested to date," with 20% of wheat in the barn, "the most rapid early progress in recent years", Adas said.

And, for wheat, the results continue to show "above average" yields, "with most crops yielding above the farm average", if with poorer results from fields which succumbed to relatively high disease pressures seen earlier in the season.

Yields range from 3.7-13.0 tonnes per hectare, compared with an average of 7.7 tonnes per hectare.

Quality results

On quality - a particularly key concern this year, given the rain damage to crops in continental Europe and parts of Ukraine crops are scoring well on specific weight and Hagberg falling numbers.

Specific weight, the mass of grain per given volume, is averaging about 77 kilogrammes per hectolitre, in line with the 2013 result, and well above the figure of 69.6 seen in 2012, the second wettest year on record for the UK, which caused significant downgrades to feed much as being seen in France this year.

On Hagberg falling number, a measure of the sprouting which is encouraged by rains on ripe kernels, the crop is averaging 308 seconds, well above the average, and the poor levels being seen on parts of the continent.

One major European commodities house estimates that only one-third of French wheat will meet the Hagberg number of 225 seconds needed to meet requirements of Algeria and other North African countries, usually major buyers of French grain.

'Low protein'

However, for the UK, "the main concern is the low protein", Adas said, with the range of results of 9-12.5% suggesting a crop with a level below the average of 12%.

"There are reports of Group 1 milling wheats," the top UK grade, "with grain proteins of less than 11.5%."

In fact, higher protein levels are often encouraged by crop stress, rather than the benign conditions of this year, with even 2012 coming in at 12.5% protein.

"The result does not surprise me," a UK trader told

"But if there is one thing you would not worry about so much, it is protein. That is relatively easy to blend out, by mixing with higher protein wheat, compared with boosting the quality of grains deficient in other characteristics."

'More rain is coming'

The results of the UK harvest are being keenly viewed by merchants both domestically and abroad, given the need to replace French supplies which, thanks to harvest-time rains, no longer meet export grades.

There has been some talk of the UK - the third-ranked EU wheat producer, typically renowned as a source of feed grain for the likes of Spain becoming an origin of milling wheat to the likes of Algeria, if only after blending with higher protein supplies from the likes of Canada or Germany.

Much focus has also centred on Germany, renowned for its high protein wheat, and Poland, although questions marks over wheat quality in these countries too have been raised after recent rains.

World Weather said on Thursday that "eastern France and western and Germany trended drier Wednesday, but more rain is coming today through the weekend.

"Two large storm systems and two minor disturbances are expected over the next five days assuring periodic rainfall with some of it moderate in intensity."

Further ahead, "less significant rainfall will evolve during the middle to latter part of next week from central France through central and southern Germany to Poland, allowing for some better drying and harvest conditions".

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