9 November 2001

Milling wheat imports likely to rise

MILLERS could have to import almost half their milling wheat requirement this year, due to quality problems in the smallest UK wheat crop for 13 years.

The Home Grown Cereals Authoritys cereal quality survey shows great variation, with a definite trend towards low Hagbergs and poor specific weights, although protein content is generally higher than last year.

Only 53% of Group 1 and 2 wheats reach a reduced breadmaking specification of 200 Hagberg, 12.5% protein and 74kg/hl, says the HGCA.

Coupled with a near 30% drop in the total wheat crop, millers could be faced with a challenge, says NABIM director general Alex Waugh. "Imports of quality grain are likely to increase."

The UK milling industry uses 3m tonnes of high grade milling wheat a year. Industry estimates suggest this leaves millers needing to import about 1.5m tonnes.

But Peter Jones, wheat director of Rank Hovis, says no-one knows the true answer on quality or quantity because most wheat is still in farmers stores. "The main problem will be maintaining a constant supply. We need farmers to keep selling throughout the season."

But Grainfarmers milling wheat trader James Ross says: "UK millers are able to use a high variance of wheat quality – even down to 120 Hagberg and 11% protein. Although this years crop may not meet all the exact criteria, it is still useable as milling wheat."

This means premiums are available for a wide range of qualities, with £3/t over feed wheat being paid for the lowest useable grade. Full specification group 1s are worth £90/t ex-farm for November, but Mr Ross says that imported German milling wheat will cap any rise in price for the time being. &#42