Yield rises, quality dips as UK wheat harvest ends

The UK wheat harvest, entering its final stages, looks ever more certain to set a yield record, but late-summer rains are beginning to take a toll on quality.

With 90% of the crop harvested, the yield has averaged 8.4-8.6 tonnes per hectare, consultancy Adas said, nudging higher its estimate from the 8.3-8.6 tonnes per hectare reported a week ago.

The current record yield is 8.3 tonnes per hectare, set in 2008.

"Yields remain above the 10-year average of 7.7 tonnes per hectare," Adas said.

"Good establishment conditions in autumn 2013, high tiller number and winter survival rate and mild temperatures and plentiful sunshine hours during grain fill have all positively affected yield.

"Crops have tended to yield well across all soil types due to adequate moisture during the spring and summer."

'Black moulds and smuts'

However, the consultancy added that "there are signs that quality is deteriorating in later harvested crops where rainfall delayed harvest".

This is particularly in areas where a pick-up in rainfall since mid-August has delayed harvesting, Adas said, adding that crops in Southern and Eastern regions that are still in the field "are starting to develop black moulds and smuts and are a priority to harvest in the coming week".

In terms of milling specifications, the decline in quality is evident in Hagberg falling number - in essence a measure of the sprouting in ripe grain that is encouraged by rains which Adas now saw averaging 264 seconds.

That is down from 284 seconds as of a week ago, and the 331 seconds estimates by a preliminary crop report unveiled last week by the HGCA crop bureau.

"Some samples processed over the last week have started to look dull," Adas said, if adding that specific weights, another key quality measure "have remained stable" at 76 kilogrammes per hectolitre.

The protein level was pegged at an average of 12%, up 0.1 points on a week ago.

UK wheat quality is being particularly closely watched given the considerable damage to crops in many continental European countries, including France, caused by late rains.

Barley results

For spring barley, of which the UK harvest is now some 60% complete, yields are proving "good", with the crop averaging 5.9-6.1 tonnes per hectare.

That is above the average of 5.7 tonnes per hectare, although that is down from the range 6.0-6.3 tonnes per hectare reported a week ago.

"Yields from heavy land have been good despite some poor drilling conditions and competition from black-grass," Adas said, adding that poorer results were seen "where crops were planted into poor seedbeds or sown late".

On quality, the crop was coming in with a below-average specific weight, but showing a "good-to-average" nitrogen level of 1.4%, and "average" screenings.

'Meeting specification'

"Most malting crops are meeting specification," Adas said.

The comments follow an assessment from RMI Analytics, the malting barley analysis group, which said that the UK crop "continues to be low in protein, which is good for the distillers.

"But there are more requests for guaranteed minimums of 9.5% protein to be added to the contract specification. Such requests result in a premium of E3-4 per tonne."

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