Josh Sosland: Smaller wheat acreage, sodium reduction demand attention

by Josh Sosland
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At the dawn of 2010, two issues of serious concern to baking have emerged to the point that they should attract even greater attention from the industry than in the past.

On Jan. 12, the U.S. Department of Agriculture estimated winter wheat plantings in the United States at 37 million acres, a figure considerably smaller than anticipated in the trade and the smallest acreage since William Howard Taft was president. The acreage, down 20% from the recent peak of 2008 and down 43% from the record in 1981, represents continuation of the steady trend away from wheat seeding that shows no sign of abating.

Also last week, officials of the New York City Public Health Department launched an initiative aimed at reducing salt content in food by 25% in the next five years. Calls to reduce sodium intake have been growing steadily louder in recent years and promise to gain further attention later this year with publication of new Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

For baking, these disparate issues have no simple solutions. But inaction in the case of wheat acreage could at some distant point leave wheat looking painfully similar to oats — a once major U.S. crop, sourced principally through imports.

In the case of sodium, inaction as many other food segments cut sodium will leave grain-based foods standing even more vulnerably as a ranking source of sodium in the diet.

The question to ask in 2010 about these issues is what the picture will look like in 2020. While no instant fixes are possible for either issue, focused immediate responses surely could enhance that picture in the longer term.

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