Producing a sought-after wheat for a niche market has enabled one Suffolk grower to find a premium while assisting with blackgrass control.
Earlier this week, Simon Thompson, farm manger at Lower Green Farm in Sotterley, near Beccles, harvested his 20ha trial block of durum wheat.
The farm was approached by the Yarmouth-based company Pasta Foods because it was looking for home-grown durum wheat for its products.
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Durum wheat is normally grown in the dry, Mediterranean climates of Italy, making it difficult to grow in UK, and Mr Thompson only knows of one other grower in neighbouring Norfolk who is harvesting a similar amount of durum wheat this year.
“The company is on our doorstep and looking for UK durum wheat production, so we thought we would give it a go.
“You need decent weather and a dry period in the run up to harvest, so here on the east coast we are a predominantly dry region, making it ideally suited,” said Mr Thompson.
He explained that having the right weather is crucial to successfully growing durum wheat because it is particularly susceptible to losing its hagberg if it rains prior to harvest.
The milling specification for durum is similar to a normal group 1 milling wheat – protein needs to be above 13%, with a 280 hagberg and a 78kg/hl bushel weight.
Mr Thompson added: “The protein levels are normally inherently high in durum, probably because it is a lower-yielding wheat.”
Although prices are yet to be agreed with the mill, he hopes to secure a premium for his durum wheat.
As the only competition comes from imported grain, he plans to use those prices as a benchmark.
“It would be nice to think there would be a premium for UK production because Pasta Foods is looking to grow and brand UK-grown durum wheat pasta,” he said.
As it is rarely grown in the UK, Mr Thompson said he was not sure what to expect the crop to yield at.
“It’s mostly grown in Italy and yields about 5t/ha. About 7t/ha would’ve been good I think but we’re running slightly under that at 6.5t/ha.
“The output will be dependent on the quality of the milling sample,” he explained.
It is possible that more durum wheat could be grown on the farm next year as Mr Thompson looks to add value to all cropping on the 1,214ha estate.
“I hope to grow more durum wheat, we’re looking for a better crop than growing just feed wheat.
“We’ve haven’t got any other mills locally so the fact we have a consumer on our doorstep looking for us to grow a specific kind of wheat for them is great news.”
Durum is technically a spring wheat and can be drilled as late as early-November, allowing for greater blackgrass control as an added benefit.
“The delayed drilling makes a huge difference in controlling blackgrass. Finding a wheat that actually offers a premium and prefers to be drilled late is a great advantage for heavy land like ours.
“Compared to normal milling wheat, durum wheat requires slightly less nitrogen, a fairly robust fungicide programme and 30kg/ha of N as a full ear application to boost protein levels.”