Consistency is key to wheat variety choice

High demand from millers means quality wheat premiums are attractive, but variety choice is crucial, as Louise Impey discovers

Millers need more. That’s the message to quality wheat growers, as they consider their variety choices for the year ahead.

If the promise of high premiums is too tempting to resist, be clear about what’s on offer, experts advise. Not every variety will deliver the consistency that millers want.

While Group 1 varieties are accepted for all baking systems, Group 2 choices aren’t suitable for all grists and, as a result, don’t have the same universal appeal, explains Mark Charlton of Allied Grain, speaking on behalf of nabim. “But what’s most important is the fact that UK varieties are in demand. Millers need more UK material.”

Solstice has consolidated its position as the leading Group 1 variety and is an excellent choice, he confirms. “But Gallant is making inroads and also meets the standard. And it does give a bit more yield.”

Where Gallant might prove more difficult to grow is in areas that are prone to late frosts, warns Bill Handley of HGCA. “It’s an earlier type and so gets to stem extension before others. Late frosts are more of a worry with these early varieties.”

Peter Jones, national wheat manager for Rank Hovis, confirms that Gallant is the company’s preferred Group 1 variety. “We’ve seen enough of it to be sure and it’s given us the consistency that we need.”

As might be expected, the Group 2 choices are more of a mixed bag. Cordiale still leads the category, as it has good milling characteristics which mean that it is widely used and earns good premiums, continues Mr Charlton.

“At the other end of the scale is Einstein, which is used in blends. It has a lower protein and is a softer milling type.”

The most recent addition to Group 2 is KWS Podium, which brings orange wheat blossom midge resistance to this sector. Industry rumours hint at an imminent buy back contract, but most millers haven’t seen enough of it yet to make a firm decision, he notes.

“The fact that KWS Podium has midge resistance is a real bonus,” says Simon Oxley, manager of the HGCA Recommended List. “It also has good resistance to fusarium, which is useful in a quality variety.

But the other Group 2s, including KWS Sterling, Ketchum and Panorama, are facing an uphill struggle. “It’s very difficult selling some of these varieties,” acknowledges Barry Barker of Masstock. “Growers are waiting to be convinced.”

And he can’t see big changes taking place in this group. “There’s no motivation to move on. Growers are comfortable with the returns they are getting from the tried and tested choices.”

The bread-making candidates include Crusoe, which already has the backing of Warburtons through a buy-back contract with Openfield, as well as DSV’s Chilton and the awned wheat KWS Saxtead. All are considered to be Group 2 quality at this early stage.

Attractive contracts for wheat candidates

Innovative buy-back agreements unveiled at Cereals for the candidate winter wheat varieties Crusoe and Torch are a sign of things to come, agrees the seed trade.

“It’s a trend that will continue,” believes Mastock’s Barry Barker. “Millers are keen to secure supplies and most are looking to increase the amount they source from the UK.”

At the same time, growers need the security that a buy back contract gives them, especially if the variety is a potential bread-maker and its uptake and likely premiums are still unclear, he adds.

“In the case of Crusoe, getting a new Group 1 or 2 variety into the market is difficult. This is a way of ensuring that there are sufficient quantities of it in the system early on, so that it has every chance of succeeding if it meets the miller’s requirements.”

Independent variety consultant Mike Jeffes says that Warbutons and ADM Milling’s willingness to enter into such agreements with candidate varieties is good news.

“It shows that they are prepared to act swiftly. It also shows that the whole chain is working more closely and coherently, for the benefit of everyone.”

He points out that buy-back arrangements open the market to different varieties and give growers the assurances they need. “The milling industry is trying to find and understand varieties earlier. They’re in a competitive marketplace and not all of them need the same varieties for their processes.”

But he stresses that a buy-back contract at an early stage doesn’t guarantee the variety’s success in the longer term. “They don’t involve huge amounts of grain and the varieties involved can prove not to be the right choices. But at least the millers will have had a chance to look closely at them.”

Crusoe and Edgar are the two breadmaking varieties that Warburtons is backing through Openfield, while ADM Milling is behind the potential Group3 wheat Torch, to fulfil a dedicated supply to United Biscuits.

While both Crusoe and Torch are up for recommendation later this year, meaning that there’s independent information on their performance, Edgar is a German variety from Limagrain which isn’t in the Recommended List system.

Notable breadmakers

Group 1

• Solstice – Top quality and sound agronomics mean it is still Group 1 leader

• Gallant – Popular with millers and bumper yields mean it is gaining market share. Potential problems if growing in areas susceptible to late frosts.

Group 2

• Cordiale – Still Group 2 favourite and commands attractive premiums

• KWS Podium – Brings orange wheat blossom midge resistance to sector and industry rumours hint at an imminent buy-back contract

• Einstein – At the softer end of Group 2 and tends to have low protein content making it most suitable for blends

• KWS Sterling, Ketchum and Panorama are yet to win over millers making them difficult to market


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