Crisis looms for the UK supply of soft wheat

Domestic soft wheat supply is on a knife edge, following another fall in the area planted to soft Group 3 and 4 wheats this season. 

Soft wheat is used to produce flour for the manufacturing of biscuits and cakes, as well as to make breakfast cereals.

However, a 65% drop in the amount of UK soft wheat available since 2002 could spell disaster unless the industry is prepared to nurture the sector and encourage its growth, warns George Mason, senior executive at the Northamptonshire-based miller Heygates.

See also: Winter oats area surges as Scottish plantings rise by 8%

“We can’t import soft wheat like we can feed wheat,” he explains.

“We’ve gone from producing 8.5m tonnes to just 2m tonnes, and meanwhile there’s rising demand for it to produce biscuit and cake flours, breakfast cereals, ethanol and the export market.”

If the UK was to have any crop issue – whether quantity, quality or safety – the Group 3 sector would be in a deficit position, making it very difficult for some food manufacturers, he added.

“They can’t just switch to other types of wheat, as there would be production and quality issues. And accepting poorer quality wheat is not what big food brands are about.”

Mr Mason urges growers to reconsider soft wheats, especially Group 3s.

“Some buyers are only after Group 3s, others will take 3s and 4s. There are buy back contracts out there, with attractive premiums attached.”

This type of wheat is unique to the UK, so has a value in domestic and export markets, he ended.

“Soft wheat is where it’s at. We mustn’t let this sector decline any further,” he says.