Weetabix feed wheat premiums can aid struggling profits

Growing feed wheat for Weetabix is earning Leicestershire grower Robert Rouston a premium, which can mean the difference between breakeven and profit.

This year he has earmarked 500t of the variety Diego to go to the breakfast cereal group for a £3/t premium over feed wheat market prices.

The predominantly medium clay land in his part of Leicestershire is well suited to wheat, with feed grain mostly being grown because of a lack of nearby flour mills.

See also: Wheat disease alert as rain heightens risk

Small premiums

Mr Rouston was first approached by grain merchants Gleadells and asked if he would supply Weetabix at a small premium in 2011.

“A £3 premium doesn’t sound much but with current prices at less than £110/t for feed wheat it makes all the difference and it isn’t particularly hard to meet their spec,” he tells Farmers Weekly.

Weetabix’s main requirements are a specific weight of 72.5kg/hl and a vomitoxin level, which includes mycotoxins such as fusarium, of less than a set number of parts per billion.

Fungicide regime for winter wheat Diego

T0 Multisite chlorothalonil.

T1 SDHI boscalid + azole epoxiconazole + strobilurin pyraclostrobin (Nebula), and chlorothalonil.

T2 SDHI fluxapyroxad + azole metconazole (Librax), and azoles epoxiconazole + prochloraz  (Ennobe)

T3 Azoles prochloraz + tebuconazole (Monkey)

Approximate cost: £100/ha

Last year the food processor set its vomitoxin tolerance level, also known as a DON, at 500ppb.

“Once the grain is in the shed they will take a test sample to get these numbers. We easily met the DON last year with a rating of less than 250ppb and our specific weight was 75,” says Mr Rouston.

He adds that protein and Hagburg numbers are of less importance to Weetabix but supplying farms need to be within a 50 mile radius of the company’s factory in Burton Latimer, just south of Kettering.

Mr Rouston is farm manager for a 880ha arable unit run by farming company Sentry at Blackbrook Farm, Shepshed, just five miles west of Loughborough and is about 45 miles from the plant.

Cleaner varieties 

To ensure he meets the DON threshold, the last two crops Mr Rouston grew for the Weetabix contract was popular feed wheat variety Diego.

“The Diego is historically what we have grown because it seems to meet the spec quite nicely and Weetabix like it. It isn’t as high yielding or as quick to grow early on but it’s clean and that is most important,” he says.

Mr Rouston also grows Santiago which he describes as a “good barn filler” but its weaker disease resistance makes it less suitable for this premium.

This year he is trying the newer variety Evolution, and says he could grow more of it the future if it yields well this harvest.

Farm facts

Blackbrook Farm, Shepshed, Leicestershire

  • 880ha arable farm
  • Four year rotation (winter wheat, oilseed rape, winter wheat, break crop of spring beans/linseed/sugar beet)
  • Growing feed wheats (Diego, Santiago and some Evolution)
  • Medium clay with some lighter land
  • Min-till system
  • Drilling in mid-September

He operates a four-spray fungicide strategy for all wheats, and sees a T3 azole mix head spray to the Weetabix-bound Diego crop as essential to keep the mycotoxin count low.

Flexibility and balance 

Premiums aside, Mr Rouston explains that one of the big advantages of selling to Weetabix is flexibility, especially in poorer seasons.

“I book in 500t with them and it isn’t priced until we know what the quality is like in the autumn in case we do have a bad season and I’m stuck with something that I can’t sell,” he says.

He estimates that cost of fungicides for all wheat varieties up to T2 is £90/ha and he will then spend a further £8-£10/ha on a T3 azole mix spray for his Diego to hopefully guarantee the DON requirement is met.

With his input costs so close to feed wheat market values of little more than £100/t at present, Mr Rouston insists that searching for even the smallest of premiums will help growers’ pass their breakeven points.