5 March 1999

Protein check changes could hit growers hard

By Amanda Dunn

CHANGES to the way protein levels are measured in cereals could lead to confusion in the grain trade and leave producers out of pocket.

The moves, which will apply to all milling wheat deliveries after Sept 1, involve a new reference test and the reporting of results on a dry matter basis. That will see the old 11% protein rating reported as 13%.

But rounding calculations mean other results are less easily compared. Whereas five percentage points currently separate 11% wheat from 10.5% wheat, the new scale has six points separating the equivalent levels (see table).

Widespread confusion and unfair price penalties for farmers could result, warns a trader for one national merchant.

Although the NFU supports the changes in principle, it is anxious about the fallback issue. "There is a concern, that for convenience millers will continue to use the same rate of fallback, leaving the farmer out of pocket," says Richard Butler, chairman of the NFU cereals committee.

"We will be having further meetings with the National Association of British and Irish Millers to express our concern."

Millers insist the new approach will not change the value of protein. But so far they have given no clear message on how fallbacks will be calculated this summer.

"It is highly likely we will be revising our fallback arrangement from £1.50 a protein point to £1 a point," says Allied Mills wheat director Charlie Fillingham.

"At todays value £1 a point claim would be equivalent to 83p a point in the new system of measurement," adds Peter Jones, wheat director of Rank Hovis.

George Mason, of Heygate Mills, wants to trade new crop under the new system and has already circulated details of the change to 1100 farmers on the firms database. But he too admits his company has not yet revised its fallbacks policy.

A lack of awareness at farm level is a further concern. "Farmers are effectively selling grain on different terms and are not aware of it," says Robert Kerr of Glencore Grain. "I went to a recent meeting of progressive farmers and not one was aware of the change in contract."

"Farmers may need to re-negotiate new crop milling contracts," adds Andy Bury of Cargill.

According to NABIMs Alex Waugh, the need for the change is two-fold. "We are firstly changing the reference methodology from Dumas to Kjeldahl, because it is better from the operator point of view, has results on a par with Kjeldahl and, we believe, will become more widely adopted throughout the trade and abroad.

"The second change, to reporting protein on a dry matter basis, is taken to bring us in line with the rest of Europe.

"We have been talking to the NFU cereals committee since November 1998 and would be very happy to talk to any farmer groups to explain the changes," he adds.

Protein testing

Old – Kjeldahl New – Dumas

@ 14% mc @ dry matter

11.0 13.0

10.9 12.9

10.8 12.8

10.7 12.7

10.6 12.6

10.5 12.4

10.4 12.3

10.3 12.2

10.2 12.1

10.1 12.0

10.0 11.9

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Potatoes very slow

POTATO planting progress remains slow, despite drying winds. The BPC estimates that only 1068ha (2639 acres), including 148ha (366 acres) of maincrop, were in the ground by last weekend. Nearly three times the area was in by the same time last year. Cornwall was furthest ahead with just about half the total done.

S-prills for OSR

SULPHUR mini-prills mixed with spring oilseed rape seed at drilling are the cheapest way to counter S-deficiency in the short-lived crop, claims Dalgety.

Depending on soil type, location and organic inputs, 10kg/ha (9lb/acre) of Onset, 90% elemental sulphur, can supply all the crops S needs, says the firms Matthew Dennick.

Seed views are sought by spud survey

POTATO seed certification standards could be revamped, if growers signal a need for improvements in a new satisfaction survey being undertaken by British Potato Council.

Directed at all 7500 levy-paying GB potato growers, the survey is part of a BPC drive to bring seed and ware producers closer together.

Current MAFF and Scottish Office certification schemes are old and BPC is keen to work to upgrade them, explains BPC council member and Norfolk grower Tony Bambridge. The voluntary, confidential survey examines grower attitudes to seed tuber quality and customer service.

"Top growers are obsessed by quality and quite rightly so," says BPC chairman David Walker. "We want everybody to demand to know the quality of their seed. And the first thing we want to make them think about is what they mean by quality."

Many growers already operate beyond certification schemes with post-harvest virus tests, notes Mr Bambridge. There is also a growing demand for bacterial loading tests and detailed fungal analysis to determine seed quality and identify need for treatment.

Certification schemes may have to give higher priority to tuber fungal diseases, he suggests. "You can have fairly significant levels of rhizoctonia solani expressing itself as black scurf on seed potatoes which inspectors hardly take notice of. But ware growers producing crops for a very highly-developed multiple retailer trade would see that as a particularly important and potentially damaging disease."

Powdery scab is also covered by seed regulations. "I have a feeling that some ware growers would suggest that the certification scheme is a little too loose on diseases."

However, not all growers may need the same high-quality standards, Mr Bambridge acknowledges. Some processing growers may be content to accept fungal blemish diseases on seed, provided they are not at levels which affect stem numbers, he says.

SEED SPUD SURVEY

&#8226 All levy-paying growers.

&#8226 Tuber quality and supplier service.

&#8226 Aim to match seed and ware quality.

&#8226 Increase industry efficiency.

&#8226 Certification standards revamp?

SEEDSPUDSURVEY

&#8226 All levy-paying growers.

&#8226 Tuber quality and supplier service.

&#8226 Aim to match seed and ware quality.

&#8226 Increase industry efficiency.

&#8226 Certification standards revamp?

Till n drill. Optic spring barley goes into a good seedbed after sugar beet on &#42 Laverack & Sons 61ha (150 acre) Rose Farm at Holme-on-Spalding Moor, N Yorks. Drilling rate late last week was 157kg/ha (10st/acre).