Wheat harvest better than expected

Related tags Harvest

At the cutting edge, quality was better than expected
At the cutting edge, quality was better than expected
Better than expected is the preliminary verdict on this year’s wheat harvest, despite spring drought and harvest rain.

English wheat production is estimated at about 13.64Mt, 1.5% down on the five-year average, according to results of a National Farmers Union (NFU) members’ survey.

The crop area of 1.82Mha was about 3% higher than last year with an average yield of about 7.5t/ha compared with the five-year average of 7.8t/ha.

Specific weights have been maintained at an average of 77kg/hl and protein levels are averaging 11.2%, according to the latest Home-Grown Cereals Authority figures.

It estimated Hagburg falling number at 195 seconds in recently harvested crops compared with earlier cuts.

Rainfall levels

Ian Backhouse, NFU combinable crops chairman, said: “This year’s yield decrease was largely due to tough growing conditions last spring, including one of the lowest ever rainfall levels recorded for the first half of the year across the majority of England.

“Despite higher plantings, production this year is expected to be lower … due to lower yields. Production will be down on the five-year average by around 189,000t.”

Rain prevented many farmers keeping up with ripening crops towards the latter part of harvest, he added. “Fortunately, much of the quality milling crop was already harvested and dried before exposure to prolonged rainfall.”

Alex Waugh, director of the National Association of British and Irish Millers (NABIM), told FoodManufacture.co.uk: “Early [​bakery run] indications suggest the wheat is not baking as well as field test figures suggested but it’s not a disaster, it’s manageable.”

Manufacturers and millers will have to work together to find a solution such as adjusting the grist or changing the set-up of mills or production lines, he said.

But Britain’s harvest weather worries are small compared with other nations, said Waugh. “Northern and eastern Germany have been very wet at harvest time so expectations of quality are rather diminished as opposed to normal.

“In the Dakotas in the States and just over the border in Canada there have been problems as well but it’s not a disaster.”

But major grain producer Russia has resumed exports after banning them in the last six months of 2010 after devastating fires.

Key impact

Waugh said the US maize harvest was likely to have a key impact on global wheat prices. “In the US, there are considerable concerns about the maize harvest. It is a very big crop – the UK wheat harvest is 15Mt but the US maize harvest is more than 20 times bigger at between 300-360M.

“The latest projection revised the crop down by the equivalent of the UK wheat harvest – 15 to 20Mt.

That means maize prices have risen to the point that they are on a par with wheat, which means wheat prices can’t fall because if they did people would buy wheat as a substitute for maize [​for animal feed],” ​said Waugh.

The impact the maize harvest will have on wheat prices will not be known for another four to six weeks, he said.

NABIM represents UK flour millers which use about 5.7Mt of wheat a year to produce 4.5Mt of flour.

Up to 85% of the wheat used by millers is grown in the UK, with the remainder being imported mainly from Canada, France and Germany.

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