17 November 1995

GRAIN EXPORTS ARE VITAL FOR HOME PRICES

Exports account for 25% of UK cereal production, so the market should no longer be seen as a surplus outlet. Charles Abel takes a closer look

GETTING exports right is vital to maintaining domestic prices, stresses Barclay Forrest, chairman of the British Cereal Exports advisory committee and a farmer from Whitemire, Duns, Berwickshire.

"We are starting to get the message through and can certainly compete with the French," he says. "But we are coming under new pressures as well. For the first time this year we faced competition from Hungary and Austria."

With that in mind he urges growers to exploit the good quality grain harvested this year. "We have had a couple of good years and we need to make the most of them to consolidate our position in the export trade."

That means releasing grain year round to satisfy demand. "Just like domestic milling and feed markets, overseas markets have a year-round need for quality grain. If they dont get it from us they will get it somewhere else."

UK exports are now dominated by EU destinations, which take 85% of shipments, with Italy and Spain taking the lions share.

Apart from malting barley, third country sales are largely done on price. By contrast EU sales are oriented around quality. That means UK grain growers need to think carefully about variety choice, husbandry and storage.

One of the key requirements of EU markets is varietal distinction and purity, stresses Mr Forrest. "Italy is very keen to know what varieties we now have and what is in the pipeline."

The good news is that those quality markets now agree they need to pay a small premium. "This year for the first time Italian grain traders were telling Italian millers they would have to pay a small premium if they wanted quality, single-variety grain," explains Mr Forrest.

Maintaining the sales momentum created by a few years of good harvest conditions requires a constant flow of information. "Its a bit like a dripping tap. We have to keep buyers informed."

BCE has had a busy year running trade missions to Portugal, Spain, Italy and Scandinavia. During those the single most useful factor has been UK Chopin Alveograph test results.

National tests

BCE now runs a national programme of such tests to gauge the suitability of UK varieties for Continental breadmaking. The programme costs up to £18,000 but is money well spent, contends Mr Forrest. "The Italians have been very impressed."

Indeed it was this programme that confirmed the suitability of what UK growers consider to be feed varieties for Continental bread and biscuit making. "Although 20% of our wheat is suitable for UK milling, about 80% suits EU bread and biscuit making processes," he notes.

Showing which varieties are suitable and encouraging growers to store those separately is a key role for BCE, he says.

BCE also participated in a "ring test" of EU labs to check Alveograph calibrations. It showed some were giving consistently different results. "Now we can take account of the difference when promoting our varieties."

Sales this year are expected to be led by Spain, where serious drought slashed cereal yields. "They took 570,000t last year and could take over 1m tonnes this year. Italy is also very keen and could take up to 500,000t."

In the long run quality assurance schemes could play a valuable role in securing export markets, agrees Mr Forrest. But at the moment those are too small to have credibility with export buyers.

&#8226 So where can farmers go for advice? At Smithfield Farm-Tech BCE is running an advice clinic for growers wanting to learn more about meeting export needs.

MALTING BARLEY PROSPECTS ARE SO EXCITING

UNLIKE wheat, which is set for a largely EU trade this year, malting barley has "exciting" prospects for third country sales.

China, Pacific rim countries and South America are all increasing their beer consumption, requiring large supplies of malting barley.

Fortunately many buyers are now coming round to appreciating the fact that winter varieties can be suitable, says Mr Forrest. "And there are even better winter varieties coming through."

"Demand for malt is booming worldwide, we should certainly be producing more," he comments. &#42


&#8226 Exports are 25% of market.

&#8226 Internal EU trade dominates for wheat, mainly milling.

&#8226 World trade "exciting" for malting barley.

&#8226 Talk to merchants to identify export openings and consider looking further afield for outlets.

&#8226 Release grain throughout year to service year-round demand from buyers.

&#8226 BCE quality tests inform buyers and producers of varietal suitability.

&#8226 Store varieties separately.

&#8226 BCE advice clinic at Smithfield Farm-Tech.

Exports account for a quarter of wheat sales, with small tonnages for EU countries set to dominate this year. Quality control is vital.

Exploit this years good quality to secure a firm foothold in export markets for the future says BCE chairman Barclay Forrest.