PRINTABLE VERSION   EMAIL TO A FRIEND   RSS FEEDS 12:38 UK, 15th Sept 2017, by Mike Verdin
UK wheat 'sets protein record' - but farmers fret over weak premium

This year UK wheat harvest looks like recording a record protein level but is proving weaker on other milling specifications, despite a major swing by growers towards planting higher-quality varieties.

The failure of seed from high-grade varieties to capture the premiums that farmers had hoped for is raising ideas of a reversal towards planting lower-specification varieties, as the autumn sowing season begins.

The protein level of the Great Britain wheat crop which, while excluding the Northern Irish result, comprises the vast majority of UK output "could be on track to be the highest on record", the UK's AHDB bureau said, coming in at 13.2%.

That is well above the five-year average of 11.8%, and the 2016 result of 12.4%, besides ahead of the existing record of 12.7%, set in 2003.

James Webster, AHDB cereals and oilseeds analyst, said that "we are seeing the highest ever average protein level for Great Britain" at the current stage of analysis of the harvest.

'Questions over consistency'

However, flagging that the headline protein level is an inexact indicator of baking quality, he added that "there will also be a number of questions asked about the functionality of the protein, gluten, this season".

And he underlined relatively weak results for other major milling specifications too, with the average specific weight the weight of grains in a given volume at 76.8 kilogrammes per hectolitre, below the average of 77.5 kilogrammes per hectolitre.

The Hagberg falling number which in essence gives a measure of the sprouting encouraged by rains falling on ripe kernels, and so a factor in particular of years with wet harvest periods - was averaging 259 seconds, the worst result since the rain-devastated harvest of 2012, and behind an average of 301 seconds.

With a "great deal of variation" between samples in Hagberg number, ranging from 79 seconds to 432 seconds, Mr Webster said that the data would "raise questions over the consistency of quality of the domestic wheat crop relative to imported supplies".

Double whammy

Indeed, the proportion of British crop suitable for making high quality bread wheat was, at 31%, smaller than the elevated level of 45% seen last year, despite an increased proportion of the crop having been seeded with the top-grade Group 1 or Group 2 seed varieties.

The proportion of British wheat seeded with Group 1 or 2 seed - at 40% - was up 9 points year on year, and the highest since 2006.

Nor are farmers being rewarded through a higher milling wheat premium for a smaller proportion of crop making top grade.

While the milling premium, at some £12-15 a tonne, has recovered somewhat from the lows of £3-5 a tonne seen around May-June, depressed by the hangover of last year's high-quality crop, they remain well below the long-term average level of £19 a tonne, according to CRM AgriCommodities.

For farmers growing under contract, minimum premiums have fallen to as low as £15 a tonne, from historical levels of £20-25 a tonne, according to the analysis group, based in the UK's key East Anglia grain-growing region.

Back to feed?

The combination of weak premiums, and the risk of growing high-quality wheat in a country often dogged, as this year, with wet harvest periods is provoking ideas of a reversal of the swing towards planting high-quality wheat, as farmers start seedings for the 2018 harvest.

"A lot of farmers are questioning the value of growing higher quality, breaking making varieties, given the extra cost involved," James Bolesworth, at CRM AgriCommodities, told Agrimoney.com.

"If they do not see a better premium, you may see more farmers growing back towards Grade 3 or 4 wheat, biscuit of or feed grade.

"We are seeing more discussion around that."

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