17 August 2001

Quality worries grow as wheat harvest falters

By Andrew Blake

FEARS were growing for the quality of the UK wheat harvest earlier this week. With greenhouse conditions forecast for midweek and no settled dry spell in sight Hagbergs are vulnerable and sprouting a real concern.

Ironically the hot dry spell that helped growers race through winter barley and oilseed rape harvesting probably raised the risk of deterioration in near-ripe crops.

"Our March forecast, based on the equivalent of the El Nino effect, was that the Hagberg national average would be 200-250 rather than over 250," says Harper Adams researcher Peter Kettlewell. "The weather at the moment seems to be supporting that."

Biggest concern is that high temperatures in July, during the late dough stage of many crops, will have reduced grain dormancy. That will make them more prone to sprouting in warm humid weather, he explains.

"The hotter it is during the late dough stage the faster dormancy breaks which increases the risk to Hagbergs in showery weather."

Unusually moist soils for the time of year are not helping, adds NIABs Richard Fenwick. "Hagbergs will be lowering day by day and there are a lot of blackened crops out there which does not bode well."

Most at risk are sprouting-susceptible varieties, notably Charger. But plenty of Claire, which many growers chose for early sowing, is already ripe.

Group 1 breadmaking types where premiums depend on good quality should receive combining priority, with Hereward taking precedence over Malacca, he suggests. "Malacca starts off with a higher Hagberg."

With about 5% of Essex wheats cut Dengie Crops grain trader Mark Button agrees. "Quality so far is quite good, though we have seen some low bushel weight Malacca." Growers should be prepared to cut damp and dry crops, he urges. "Dont wait for it to get down to 15%."

After 75mm (3in) of rain in 10 days on ripening crops, BDRs Lincs-based David Dowty will not be surprised to see quality problems. But trader colleague Gary Sharkey is more relaxed. Many crops from the Humber to Cornwall will not be ready to cut until at least Aug 20, and a 280 Hagberg in Suffolk Malacca suggests starting levels are high.

There is also more than enough Claire to absorb any soft-milling Hagberg setbacks, he adds. But much depends on the weather towards the end of the week. "If we get thunderstorms and the 29C forecast it would start to be a concern."

Acorn Arables Simon Pilling says several cases of sprouting in mid Sept-sown Claire have already been reported in the Vale of York. "Its not unexpected, but very worrying in terms of the large area out there."

&#8226 With none of NIABs 25 winter wheat trials cut by Tuesday and northern winter barleys still unharvested, next Varplan results will not be published until next weeks issue of FW. &#42

[points box]

WHEAT QUALITY

* Forecast not favouring Hagbergs.

* Hot July spell unhelpful.

* Combine breadmakers first.

* Early sown Claire esp at risk.

WHEATQUALITY

&#8226 Forecast not favouring Hagbergs.

&#8226 Hot July spell unhelpful.

&#8226 Combine breadmakers first.

&#8226 Early sown Claire esp at risk.