UK wheat users have lowered quality hurdles to ensure supplies of grain in the face of a poor domestic harvest, which data on Thursday revealed had come on top of a drop in farm stocks to a 12-year low.
"All UK millers have dropped their fallback levels," the penalties for grain not meeting typical quality specifications, a major UK merchant said.
The normal specs include a target of 76 kilogrammes per hectolitre in terms of specific weight, the weight of wheat per given volume.
For the group 1 or group 2 wheats, the top milling varieties, "It is worth discussing any [crop]… you have testing above 70 kilogrammes per hectolitre," the merchant said.
For feed, major users, including a large Cargill enterprise, are showing an increased willingness to take wheat down to a specific weight of 65 kilogrammes per hectolitre, Agrimoney.com has learned.
'Deterioration in quality'
The compromises come amid continued evidence of a crop whose quality, as well as quantity, has been hit by the wet weather which slowed development, so delaying the start of harvest, besides keeping combines from the fields since, especially in western and northern areas.
"It is clear that specific weights are low this year, with a range of between 50 kilogrammes and 78 kilogrammes per hectolitre," consultancy Adas said in a report released on Thursday.
Hagberg falling numbers, a measure of the sprouting which uses up grains' reserves and can render it unsuitable for milling, registered a "slight drop in average" over the past week, "which could indicate some deterioration in quality of crops subject to harvest delays".
Indeed, only some 40% of the UK wheat crop had been harvested as of Tuesday, compared with more than 60% typically by now.
And even where combines did roll, the quantity of green stems, and dampness of the crop has been "causing blockages if forward speeds are too high", cutting harvest rates by some 25%, Adas said.
In the past week, growers harvested about 350,000 hectares of wheat, less than half the typical amount at this stage.
On yields, Adas stuck by a forecast of a figure of between 7.1-7.5 tonnes per hectare, which would be some 5-10% below average.
At the bottom of the range, the yield would also match a 20-year low.
The poor harvest prospects come at a time when UK supplies have already been depleted, with little left over from 2011-12, farm ministry data on Thursday showed.
Farms held just 403,000 tonnes as of June, the lowest carryout since 1999-2000, and a decline of 4.0% year on year.
Ports held 678,000 tonnes, of which imported supplies accounted for 117,000 tonnes, a figure in line with last year.
The relatively low stocks reflect in part the strong quality of the 2011 harvest, which "greater use of the higher-quality domestic wheat for milling" and relatively low levels of imports, the UK farm ministry, Defra, said.