More Group 3 quality to lift UK wheat exports

KWS launched the latest in its series of high yielding, hard milling ‘Dynamic’ wheat varieties at a trade event in London last week, emphasising their flexibility for domestic and export market use.

Group 3 varieties had a 7% share of 2015/16 crop year plantings, compared to over 50% in 2003/04, as farmers moved to Group 4 hard and soft types on yield grounds. But, with an oversupplied world market, it is no longer enough simply to aim for a large pile of grain – growers need to think carefully about their market outlet. And although this message has been preached for at least the last two decades, it is surprising how many farmers don’t heed it.

While there has been progress over this period in getting the grain chain to work together more closely, there is scope for much more of this, advised KWS’ Kirsty Richards. While growers sought yield and end-users specific characteristics to suit their processes, breeders were working to produce more flexible varieties that both performed in the field and in the market.

There does appear to be a variety shift going on, as low market prices force farmers to re-examine what they are doing, allied to newer types reducing the traditional yield differential between group 4 and the quality grades.

AHDB senior Analyst Jack Watts warned that UK wheat exports have been too slow this year to shift the 3 million tonne surplus, while wheat imports remained high at some 1m tonnes, almost twice the volume in 2011/12.

Mr Watts said more flexible wheat varieties will be needed if the UK is to increase both its domestic consumption and export opportunities. Rather than growing large quantities of group 4 feed wheats, he advised farmers to choose higher quality group 2 and 3 types with the flexibility to match a wider range of market outlets. 

Glencore trader Tom Eaton noted that 70% of the UK wheat surplus for exports is currently feed quality. A higher proportion of quality varieties would make UK crop more attractive to overseas buyers. While British Cereals Exports was helping to open doors, it needed growers to supply the product if the UK was to maximise these opportunities.

The two new varieties, KWS Barrel and KWS Bassett, both score highly for yield (105% and 103% of HCGA control varieties respectively) and marketability. They are suitable for biscuit making and have a UKS export spec, while reducing agronomic risk. They have been developed in consultation with KWS breeders and end users, and tested more comprehensively than before. KWS has invested in new grain laboratories to help ensure the raw material meets the miller and baker’s needs.

In discussion, farmers were concerned that growing too much Group 3 could depress prices, and warned that a premium was the best way to attract more supplies. At the same time miller representatives remarked that they would rather have a secure supply of quality UK wheat. Grower/end user partnerships through grower groups are helpful – United Biscuits has seen a 57% increase in group 3 supplies through this route - but long-term trust between all parties is vital if these initiatives are to work.