Rising consumer appetite for speciality breads is expected to support greater demand for Group 2 wheats.
The rise of speciality breads reflects a wider trend in the bakery category. Consumption of traditional breads, such as the farmhouse loaf, has been falling for several years – by up to 2% per person per year, depending on the measure used – but consumption of speciality bread products is increasing as consumers switch to more convenient alternatives or those with beneficial health claims.
Group 2 wheats can be better suited to these end-uses as they are typically lower in protein than Group 1 varieties.
See also: Making more of minor cereals
The consequence of this development, says Hovis head of commodities Gary Sharkey, is the market is becoming more segmented and end-users are becoming more prescriptive in their needs.
"A single mill, for example, can easily be producing more than 100 different types of flour, so there is a range of contracts available to reflect grower location and what they can best achieve given their farming situation,” he says.
Group 2 wheats, such as Cordiale, have long been appreciated by end-users for their versatility in a range of end-uses, but with the introduction of higher yielding varieties it has required a hefty premium to return a favourable gross margin. Something not all end-users have been able to accommodate.
But it is not just domestic markets which support demand for Group 2 wheats, a variety with ukp approval is highly suited to export, says Mr Sharkey.
“Take KWS Lili as an example, it fits Group 2 outlets because it has the lower protein needed, is approved for export and has the yield to compete with the best varieties on the Recommended List.”
Understanding local market needs is a point endorsed by Northants merchant Charles Jackson, of Charles Jackson and Co.
He says: “There are 10 consumers of wheat in and around Northamptonshire with annual demand in excess of 1.5 million tonnes. These span animal feed to flour millers to breakfast cereal manufacturers.
This means there is a broad range of specifications. We have long-term contracts with many, but, importantly, we need grain of a consistent quality.”
He works with local growers to build relationships based on varieties with reliable demand. For many years the biggest variety on his books was Alchemy because the flour it produced performed well in the steam cooking process. Recently, he has begun moving growers on to newer varieties, but admits to being late to appreciate JB Diego.
“It’s not one I picked at the outset, but it has bold grain and a consistent sample and there is reasonable demand,” he says.
“I try to pick a variety with longevity: one I believe has the attributes to do well on-farm, will be around for several years and which will satisfy my customers. The Group 3 variety Torch fitted this requirement until it prematurely broke down to yellow rust. We’ve tested a number of the newer varieties and KWS Lili has performed well with my customers and it has the attributes desired by the grower.”
Market premiums are available, but are difficult to discuss because there is so much which influences them and there is a great deal of weather still to come.
“Our breakfast cereal contracts mean we can offer a premium for it [KWS Lili] depending on specification. These vary from 10.5% to 13% protein and with a hagberg of 225 seconds or more, though we can accommodate grain as low as 180 seconds, so there is a broad range of outlets for those which can meet contract requirements as long as it’s a consistent sample and with a good specific weight,” he adds.
For many growers it is the fear of not meeting protein specification which discourages them from pushing a bread-making wheat for a premium. While there is no formula which guarantees success in this area, for Charles Matts, of Brixworth Farming Company, and his son Ian, the farm’s arable director, there are opportunities to increase the chances of success.
“Risk in all its guises is a threat we regard seriously and with a variety this means considering its untreated yield potential since we want to avoid those which could be expensive to grow, but we also need to consider its nitrogen requirements and the chances of making specification,” says Ian Matts.
“We budget to achieve a premium on about half of our milling wheats because the weather at harvest can quickly reduce a crop to feed, but we have to manage them as if they will all meet contract requirements. This is where the analysis of production costs before variety selection comes to the fore: this is why we spread our wheat area between milling and feed varieties,” he adds.
The farm covers roughly 2,024 hectares in central Northamptonshire, with wheat on about 810ha, around 40%, as first wheats. The bread-making wheats are split between Group 1 Skyfall and Mulika and Group 2 KWS Lili, with Revelation as the feed wheat.
To achieve target protein, the milling wheats will receive 225kg N/ha in a three-way split: 80kg N+S/ha at the first application followed by 95kg N+S/ha at the second application and finally, 50kg N/ha at growth stage 37.
In order to boost grain protein, however, the crop of Skyfall will receive a further 40kg N/ha as a liquid application after ear emergence. Because of the high yield potential of KWS Lili, Ian intends to run a trial on a limited area to investigate the benefit of an increased application of nitrogen at the third timing and, on another field, whether it is worth a liquid application akin to the Skyfall.
“We grow these crops expecting to receive the full premium available, but we also want to achieve above-average yields without suffering a protein dilution. To achieve this, we need to keep nitrogen rates under review,” says Ian.