Additional soft wheat markets should ensure Viscount popularity

Distilling, export and bioethanol soft wheat markets should ensure growers grow Viscount next season, despite the loss of biscuit markets after it was not granted Group 3 status in the 2009 HGCA Recommended List, KWS says.

About 0.5m tonnes of wheat were used to make biscuits each year, Mike Jeffes, KWS‘s UK variety consultant said at a press briefing last week. “So assuming Viscount was capable of taking even 25% of the biscuit market – and millers don’t immediately switch from one variety to another – that is only 125,000t of end use that has been blocked.”

But 90% of the other soft wheat markets were still available to the variety, Andrew Newby, KWS commercial director stressed. Most Group 3s were used for distilling, largely in Scotland, starch production, export and, looking forward, bioethanol, he said. “These markets aren’t described by Nabim’s Group 3 status, which is for milling – bread, biscuit and cakes – nothing more.”

With soft wheats, like Viscount and Alchemy, now being classified as Group 4 feed wheats, wheat markets had become more complex, Mr Jeffes said.

The introduction of uks export status had opened up markets for soft feed wheats to be used in blends with Italian, Spanish and Portuguese breadmaking flours, he said, while markets also existed for distilling and bioethanol for soft feeds, as well as Group 3s.

“So maybe the first thing growers should consider is whether they want to grow a hard or soft wheat, based on what markets are available to them.”

Viscount was the premium soft wheat available to growers, he said. “It is the highest yielding soft wheat on the RL, has the right genetic make-up to fit the uks profile, the distillers are excited about it, has excellent disease resistance and orange wheat blossom midge resistance.”

It was also a non-1B/1R variety, which meant it didn’t give digestive problems to pigs or poultry, he noted.

Only a £2/t premium was needed for Viscount to produce a greater gross margin than the highest yielding hard feed wheat on the RL, Oakley, at wheat prices of £100/t, Mr Jeffes said. At a minimum he expected Viscount to attract a premium of at least half that of Claire.

“If you do the calculation comparing Claire and Viscount, Viscount blows Claire out of the water.”

Group 3 specification

Viscount is unlikely to be awarded Group 3 status before planting begins next autumn, Mr Newby said.

Nabim had agreed to look again at the variety after this year’s harvest, Mr Jeffes said, but Mr Newby stressed the variety had to be judged on what was already known, and not what could happen. “If you’re growing for a biscuit Markey you should consider other varieties.”

Viscount had failed to be classified as a Group 3 variety after Nabim’s technical committee was concerned with some of the data it generated from RL trials samples, Mr Jeffes said.

Only 50,000t of the about 500,000t Viscount crop in the ground this season was ever likely to go for biscuit making, he suggested. “Distilling in the north could take around 110,000t, while export and feed will also take significant tonnage.

“Some will still be taken in by millers for biscuits, so they can assess it on a large scale.”

The correct quality attributes were vital to biscuit makers, he acknowledged. “Millers are looking for soft varieties with low protein, soft-milling characteristics, good extraction rates and an extensible, but not too elastic gluten.”

The gluten quality was set by the genetics of the variety and wasn’t something growers could determine in the field, he said.

The specifications ensured the biscuit dough wasn’t too moist, which would make biscuits more expensive to make, and made sure the biscuits were a uniform shape and pattern. “The last thing a biscuit maker wants is a biscuit that won’t fit in the packet.”

List design needs changing

The HGCA Recommended List’s design needed to be changed to allow growers to pinpoint hard and soft wheats much more easily, Mr Newby said.

Currently the List was colour coded to allow growers to easily identify varieties in each of the four Nabim groups, but Mr Newby suggested that the new markets had muddied the waters. “I just think it is wrong to split it into milling groups when one group is so cloudy.”

Instead the List should be ordered on yield, with soft or hard as the second differentiator, and market suitability, and not Nabim grouping, as the third criteria, he believed.

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