UK farmers have seen a sharp recovery in the quality of their wheat, which on one specification has shown its best result in 23 years, but they may not enjoy much in terms of a premium.
The UK wheat harvest, which is virtually complete, is showing "large improvement on the poor quality 2012 crop", which struggled amid the wettest summer on record, the HGCA crop bureau said.
The Hagberg falling number - one of the key quality metrics, and in essence a measures of the degree of sprouting of kernels, which is encouraged by harvest rains – has so far averaged 334 seconds, the highest figure since 1990.
"This is due to dry weather conditions once the crop was ready to harvest," the HGCA said.
On protein, the crop has come in at 12.4% so far, an above-average result, with specific weight at 77.8 kilogrammes per hectolitre, in line with pasta data, the authority said, if cautioning that the data was only from the first 40% of area harvested.
2013 vs 2012
The figure represent a stark contrast to last year when, thanks to excessive spring and summer rains, the Hagberg number tumbled to 234 seconds, and the specific weight 69.6 kilogrammes per hectolitre, the lowest on records going back to 1977.
Only 2% of Grade 1 UK wheat made top milling specifications, compared with 40% the year before, a shortfall which prompted a surge in imports of high quality grain from, in particular, Germany.
However, growers may struggle to reap much of a premium thanks in part to mills' having bought ahead hefty supplies for 2013-14 too, reducing their need for domestic wheat, which will need to compete on export markets for buyers, traders at a major European commodities house said.
"In the light of the better crop here - both in quantity and quality - millers have sold back as many of these imports as they can but the suppliers still want to ship many of them rather than accept a cash settlement."
'Surplus of milling wheat'
Furthermore, the quality of the European crop elsewhere has, broadly, been strong too, contrasting with some concerns over the US soft red winter wheat crop, which was tested by harvest-time rains, and with the spring wheat harvest showing a drop in protein levels.
"The EU as a whole seems to have a surplus of milling grade wheat this year with even the Baltic states and Poland having largely quality wheat to supply," the traders said.
In Germany, the good quality of the crop means that "feed manufacturers are struggling to buy feed wheat" - meaning ironically that some vessels bringing milling grain to the UK are returning to Germany with feed wheat.
"With probably more about than the millers can use, the premium will remain under pressure and some of it may land up being marketed as feed."
Prospects looked best for top quality, Grade 1 wheat with protein of 13% or more, "especially after the German import armada has passed".
The HGCA flagged some signs of improved quality in the UK spring barley crop too, the main source of malting supplies, with the specific weight of 67.9 kilogrammes per hectolitre up 7.9% year on year and "one of the highest in the past eight years".
However, screenings, a measure of grain size, "have not returned to the average prior to 2012".
And nitrogen content, which brewers prefer at lower levels, is, at 1.66% from the first half of samples analysed, "higher than the final result obtained last year, and above the three-year average".