Good-quality crop and French woes set to boost exports of British wheat

By Vince Bamford

- Last updated on GMT

Protein levels at three-year high in British wheat. Pic: © iStock/Elena Schweitzer
Protein levels at three-year high in British wheat. Pic: © iStock/Elena Schweitzer

Related tags Wheat

UK milling wheat is set to benefit from a good-quality harvest – and strong demand from Europe as the French crop falls to a 10-year low.

The latest annual cereal quality survey by industry levy body AHDB Cereals & Oilseeds, published this week, found an average protein level of 12.6% in GB wheat versus a three-year average of 11.8%.

Protein content is one indicator of the quality of grain, and good protein content and quality is required in wheat for bread making.

The AHDB survey comprised 10,166 wheat samples, with sampling geographically biased towards Eastern and South Eastern England. This means results may change as the rest of the British crop is harvested and analysed, pointed out AHDB.

Highest protein level for four years

Compared with previous provisional results, the current provisional protein values for wheat are the highest they have been at this stage for the past four years, and nearly 1% higher than the previous three-year average​,” said AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds analyst James Webster.

Another measure of the quality of the grain, the Hagberg Falling Number, has seen a provisional increase on last year, at 319 seconds compared with 312 seconds at this stage last year.

The Hagberg test measures the time a plunger takes to fall through a heated mixture of ground grain and water, and provides an indication of the level of enzyme activity and onset of sprouting. A high number is better, with a threshold of 250 seconds used for bread making wheat.

AHDB Wheat Survey Results

Wheat survey

Writing on the AHDB Cereals and Oilseeds website this week​, analyst Isobel Robinson suggested the good quality of milling wheat could give the UK an opportunity to displaces some of its imports, which she described as remaining “stubbornly high​” over recent seasons.

The UK’s primary source of imported milling wheat are Canada, France and Germany.

Robinson suggested it could be difficult for UK wheat to displace Canadian as that imported from Canada is usually high-protein milling wheat for bread, which the UK is unable to produce in sufficient quantities.

But the UK may import less from France and Germany this season – particularly as wet weather has resulted in a smaller and poorer-quality crop of this season’s French grain.

French Ministry of Agriculture body FranceAgriMer this week announced that France wheat production this season is estimated at 28.5 million tonnes - the lowest since 1993/94. Germany’s wheat production is estimated to be down on last year.

Boost for UK exports

In addition to displacing imports, this is likely to boost exports of UK wheat.

We are expecting strong demand for UK wheat from other EU countries because of the problems in France​,” Alex Waugh, director general of flour milling trade body the National Association of British and Irish Flour Millers (Nabim), told this site.

He added that the higher protein level in this year’s UK wheat crop would not been seen as either good nor bad news by UK bakers.

'Millers will smooth the transition from one crop to the next and minimize any change in specification'

Alex Waugh, director general, Nabim

Millers will do what they always try to do, smooth the transition from one crop to the next and minimize any change in specification​.”

Pricing similar to last year

Pricing of UK bread wheat is currently in a similar range to this time last year, added Nabim, although Stirling depreciation meant base wheat prices were higher year-on-year.

The likelihood is that there will be a degree of market volatility during the season as perceptions of remaining UK availability adjust to emerging export data and as currency fluctuates​,” he added.

AHDB pointed out that survey results may change as the rest of the country’s crop is harvested and analyzed.

The normal trend is for apparent quality to decline as more results are added to the AHDB survey​,” added Waugh. “With later samples, there is a greater risk of damage due to poor harvesting conditions, so the final year on year comparison will look a bit different​.”

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