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Stackyard News Dec 08

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    Varying Wheat Quality Raises a Tricky Challenge for Arable Farmers

A shortage of milling wheat means that premiums of up to £50 per tonne are currently available for the best quality crops.

Duxford winter wheat - an HGCA Recommended List 2008/09 variety.

Duxford winter wheat

But in order to achieve these top prices, farmers must rigorously test the quality of their wheat and separate out what is eligible for a premium payment accordingly. That is the advice being given to farmers throughout the Midlands as the wheat market feels the after effects of the summer’s wet harvest.

Up until the start of the 2008 wheat harvest, most crops were in good condition and looked set to produce record yields. Whilst yields have turned out to be exceptional, the prolonged wet summer weather has meant that very few farms managed to completely avoid some level of crop damage.

As a result, a greater than normal percentage of wheat harvested in the UK has been downgraded and is destined for the feed sector. However, those farms that began their harvest before the rains took hold did manage to bring in some high quality wheat.

“Many farmers may think that their crop is only fit for feed purposes,” explains Julian Walker, managing director of Shrewsbury based Shropshire Grain. “However, with many farm stores containing several different grades of wheat, a percentage may be of a high enough quality to reach the grade needed for bread and biscuit making.

“Farmers should therefore take professional advice and have their crops independently analysed to pinpoint the quality of the grain so that the crop can be allocated to the most appropriate customer. And with premiums reaching over £50/tonne for the best quality wheat, finding the right end user really can pay dividends by adding significantly to the crop’s value.

“It is vital to test the entire crop before it leaves the farm. By taking the time to separate the crop into batches, each load is less likely to be rejected on quality grounds,” advises Mr Walker, who also urges farmers to be realistic about the quality of their wheat. “After all, it doesn’t make sense for farmers to try to sell their crops into a premium market unless they are confident that it will reach the minimum standards required.”

It is not only flour mills which are particular about what wheat is acceptable. As many farmers will have found to their cost, feed wheat outlets are also discriminating. Acceptable standards vary greatly and farmers would be well advised to check this out before loading contracts.

“So much on-farm testing may seem excessive to many farmers and separating the crop into different batches is certainly a complicated and time consuming process, but it does help to avoid getting stung by rejection charges. Shropshire Grain can help by providing an independent testing service that ensures crops are marketed to the most appropriate customer.

“Attention to detail is the name of the game at any time, but this season in particular it is paying real dividends. Those cereal growers who, alongside their merchant, are going to the trouble to check out exactly what they have to sell, are reaping real rewards,” Mr Walker concludes.

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