Speaking to BakeryandSnacks.com for World Food Day 2014 and its ‘family farming’ focus, Robb MacKie said a solid wheat farming supply chain was vital for bakers.
“In terms of the large volume, commercial bakers, obviously the infrastructure is critically important for wheat. In the baking industry we need a strong, stable, healthy farm community for our raw materials,” he said.
However, there were a number of challenges facing the US wheat sector – potentially threatening its stability, he said.
Domestic quality concerns
While US bakers were blessed to be able to source wheat domestically, MacKie said there was a downside because a large proportion of US wheat was exported.
“The challenge is to ensure that US bakers are getting access to the high quality, high protein wheat and flour but there’s a little bit of tension… Because obviously if you’re going to ship wheat around the world, you want to ship the premium wheat and get the best price,” he said.
Getting the best quality wheat was a paramount priority for US bakers, he said, as the baking was better and fortification needs lowered. Often manufacturers blended Canadian or European grains to achieve target quality levels, he added.
Competing with fuels
Another challenge facing the US wheat sector was the encroaching land space used for maize and soybeans used for ethanol or clean diesel, MacKie said.
“One of the big challenges that we fact going forward is the continued pressure from the fuel crops soybean and corn… Where corn and soybeans can be grown in the US is split exponentially with a lot going to corn for ethanol or clean diesel,” he said.
There was a changing dynamic among US farmers, he said. “Wheat 10 years ago was a primary crop, now it’s at the end of the train, if you will, just because of the economics around wheat production.”
Kansas, for example, which the US still referred to as its ‘bread basket’ now grew more corn than wheat, he said.
Can small farming help?
Asked if small, family farms could be an answer to these supply chain concerns, MacKie said: “I think every little bit helps.”
In particular, he said there was a niche opportunity for small farms to plug – certified USDA organic wheat.
“As the products US bakers are offering diversifies more into the natural and organic space, we will start to see (and we’re already starting to see) pressure to have a steady, stable supply of organic product.”
Manufacturers were concerned about the consistence in quality of such product as it was scaled up, MacKie said.
“There’s an opportunity where I do think that smaller, family farming operations can really fit a niche to meet some of that demand,” he said.