Biscuit Wheats Back on the Agenda

June 2013

Ten years ago almost half of all UK wheats were soft biscuit type, now they are less than 16% of the crop area having been usurped by higher yielding Group 4 feeds.† However all this could change, on the back of a new variety that bridges this yield gap and provides growers with a chance to gain from Group 3 premiums.

Recommended List newcomer, KWS Croft sits just 3% lower yielding than KWS Santiago, but with some major merchants lining up biscuit and uks specification contracts worth £10/t, the newcomer has the potential to produce gross margins on a par with the UK’s top performing wheat.

According to KWS UK, value chain manager, Kirsty Richards, based on Recommended List yields, a £10/t premium would give KWS Croft a gross output of around £2226/ha from wheat at a base price of £200/t, that is nearly £50/ha ahead of any Group 4 sold for feed.

“As a result, KWS Croft could just help to redress our production balance and put Group 3s once again back at the top of the farmers’ agenda,” she suggests.

Dr Richards says that there’s a pretty stable market for Group 3 wheats of between 4.5 to 5 million tonnes.† Yet, given a variety that yields on a par with Group 4 hard wheats, there’s no reason for growers not to switch back to soft wheats and improve the potential of the UK’s wheat bulk for a range of markets.

While traditionally labelled as biscuit wheats, Group 3 softs are used for a wide range of food ingredients such as cakes and cooking ingredients as well as distilling and starch.† A larger proportion is also exported and in recent years there’s been interest from new markets.

In 2004-05, Spain and Portugal were key supporters of UK Group 3s, with wheats being used in continental breads.† More recently, the Netherlands have taken much more Group 3 wheat and N African countries such as Algeria and Morocco have used UK wheat for flat breads.† However, biggest soft wheat importer from the UK in 2011/12 was the USA.

According to NABIM, KWS Croft has produced a quality that is consistently similar to Scout throughout the three years it has been tested and fully meets Group 3 requirements.† Dr Richards confirms that all UK milling tests to date also show that KWS Croft has the resistance and extensibility needed.

At the same time, KWS Croft fully meets specifications for uks exports and will suit unblended cargoes and helping support HGCA’s uks export drive.

On the back of this, and a 2% yield advantage over Invicta in the region, Dr Richards sees KWS Croft as an ideal selection for those in the eastern region with biscuit mills or ports on their doorstep.

“Seed availability so far looks good and we would expect to see a first year sell-out at 4% this autumn with the variety taking a larger market share in 2014,” she says.

KWS wheat breeder, Mark Dodds points out that KWS Croft’s headline yields could have been higher still given a more normal season last year.† “In 2010 and 2011 it wasn’t far off Oakley in terms of yield, but, despite being one of the earliest Group 3 varieties to mature, the season didn’t help it,” he says.

“The best variety to compare it with is Robigus.† It has a high tillering potential and this needs managing.† Our advice is not to drill it too early and if crops are thick and well forward in the spring it will pay to hold back on the nitrogen.

“With a treated lodging score of 6, it will need managing with a good PGR programme, but there are no disease weaknesses and with an 8-rating for yellow rust it will help to spread risks compared to some other varieties on the same farm.

“In 2005/6, Group 3 varieties like Robigus yielded as well as the best barnfillers of the day.† Prior to this, Consort and Claire had similar market dominance.† Now, KWS Croft should rekindle interest in this sector once again,” says Mr Dodds.