2 February 1996

Spring milling? First seek out your markets

By Robert Harris

SPRING wheat looks an attractive alternative to spring barley this season on soils hard-pushed to produce malting samples. But markets should be found first.

Trade and millers agree high breadmaking premiums of £15-£20/t are likely this harvest. Winter sowings of class 1 varieties have taken just 11% of the wheat area and class 2 types little more.

"Millers are evaluating the area of milling wheat planted last autumn, the cost of imports and what that means for premiums. My guess is they will pitch prices at that sort of level," says David Neale, Dalgetys cereal seeds marketing manager.

Spring wheat deserves a closer look, he maintains. Heavier land tends to raise barley nitrogen levels and droughty soils can produce high screenings. Claims or rejections can soon erode what at first appears a good premium.

Wheat is more robust. "It establishes better in cold seed-beds. Drill in the next month and it will withstand drought better than barley." But it is a shy tillerer, so about 550 seeds a sq m should be planted, he adds.

Several "alternative" and true spring wheats are available. "Axona is proven and every millers first choice." Chablis at the "higher end" of Class 2 wheats should also be considered. "It may make less premium but its higher yield should make up for that."

Millers confirm Mr Neales price predictions. "Broadly speaking we are talking about a £20/t premium this harvest," says Peter Knight, managing director of Smiths Flour Mills in Worksop.

With few buyback contracts available, potential growers must ensure they have a market. "Millers can have problems with small parcels because they often have to reformulate to accommodate them. Speak to your merchant and find out what local outlets want," Mr Knight advises.

Richard Butler, Rank Hoviss wheat projects manager describes Axona as the "tried and tested" benchmark. Of the other recommended varieties, Avans "looks quite good" but Baldus has disappointed.

Allied Mills likes Axona and Avans but wheat director Charlie Fillingham expects most growers to choose higher yielding "alternative" wheats. &#42

Still planning your spring cereal drilling? Milling wheats could pay handsomely this year.