Growers are losing faith in bushel weight as a measure of wheat quality and have called for new HGCA research to determine its relationship with value for millers and compounders.
This loss of confidence is the result of the sizable deductions many growers faced for low bushel weight grain from last year's harvest.
But millers point out that it is a global standard and that growers need to be more proactive in knowing the quality before moving the heap of grain to the merchant.
Howard Leland, procurement director at Allied Mills, highlighted that last year's harvest was the worst he could remember. "Low bushel weight was the main quality problem, which meant we lost extractability and saw a reduction in flour yield. It took more grain to produce a tonne of flour."
Also it was more difficult to separate the bran with the resulting flour having a grey crumb rather than the bright white appearance. And grain took longer to process.
"It took more milling time, more energy and more grain to produce the flour," he explains.
In a typical year, the industry would use 4.3m tonnes of milling wheat, but so far 3.2m tonnes have been used and he predicted that 3.8m tonnes would be used.
"That is only 0.5m tonnes less than we would have done in a normal year, so it is a testament to how much millers have done to overcome the problem."
Tony Bell, raw materials director at feed compounder BOCM Pauls, adds that the lower energy content meant they had to add other ingredients to rations to boost the energy content. "We don't want to make deductions, we would rather have the wheat that we require."
The quality issue also affected exports with Rob Munro, managing director of Fengrain, highlighting that the UK had failed meet exports requirements, so the industry had to rely on the domestic market.
One concern is that the deduction problems seen in recent months could happen more frequently with the Met Office suggesting the recent wetter summers could last a decade. "If it is going to be a more regular occurrence, we need to prepare for it now," says Shropshire grower Arthur Hill.
"The things we can do include farmers knowing what they have in the shed in terms of quality before they move it and there needs to be a closer look at what happens when it gets to the end user."
Sampling is a key concern for Mr Hill. "We need clarification that British sampling protocols are being followed."
Reassuring growers, Mr Bell says that the current practice of using an auto sampler to take samples from six or seven spots for a 29t load should be robust enough.
However, Mr Leland adds that sampling always gets the blame, particularly in years when grain was so variable. "It is an organic product and it [variability] is the nature of the raw material, not the sampling.
"The problem is when farmers are surprised by the [intake] results. If farmers spent more on knowing what they have, then there can be more effort in marketing the product."
Another gripe by growers with the current system is that there is no bonus for over spec grain, yet there are deductions once it falls below.
"Oilseed rape growers are paid a bonus if they supply rapeseed with a higher oil content, so why can't the same by done for wheat with higher bushel weight," asks Mr Hill.
Mr Leland explains that the current 72kg/hl for feed wheat and 76kg/hl for milling are international standards and any changes would need global agreement with competitors doing the same.
However, in recent months as the bushel weight debate intensified, growers have questioned the need for deductions with HGCA funded research suggesting there was no reduction in feed value when using low bushel weight wheat in compound feed.
"Research published in 2001 shows that below 66kg/hl, there were no problems when used in ruminant feed, but the difference was seen with monogastric rations," says Mr Hill.
However, Mr Bell points out that starch is the key measure, being the key energy source and that there is a direct relationship with bushel weight. "Starch content falls with lower bushel weights."
Grower and NFU Combinable Crops Board chairman Andrew Watts believes that if starch does fall off, work is needed to see if the opposite is true. "Grain at 74kg/hl and 76 is still classed as 72 and there is a need to know the potential for this higher bushel weight grain."
Likewise, Lincolnshire grower Andrew Ward believes it is time millers and compounder explained why 72 is the standard. "Trust has gone out of the grain trade. Merchants and millers are the only ones benefiting from the deal.
"It's everyone's livelihoods and as there is no robust system of sampling, farmers are taking a kicking," says Mr Hill. "We need HGCA to relook at the whole bushel weight issue. We need to get it out in the open and settle this."