KANSAS CITY — With the Kansas wheat harvest nearly two-thirds completed, indications were the crop’s average protein will be low this year, perhaps historically low. A low-protein hard red winter wheat crop certainly would not be without precedent, but it will provide challenges to millers and bakers who for the past couple of years engineered fairly smooth transitions to working with primarily new crop supply. Those transitions were eased with Kansas wheat average protein at 12.7% in 2015 and 13.4% in 2014.
Millers and bakers were considering the tasks ahead in view of harvest reports in Kansas that suggested record or near record yields in many sectors of the state. Typically, a high-yielding crop, reflecting a crop that was not seriously stressed during the growing season, is one that tends to have lower average protein.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture on June 10 forecast the average Kansas wheat yield in 2016 at 48 bus per acre. The forecast was up 5 bus per acre from the May projection and up 11 bus per acre from the 2015 average yield at 37 bus per acre. Should the forecast be realized, the 2016 average yield would equal that of 2003. Together with the 2003 crop, this year’s crop would be second only with regard to average yield to the 1998 crop, whose average was 49 bus per acre.
Based on harvest reports to date, the trade would not at all be surprised if the U.S.D.A. raised its average Kansas yield estimate in its July Crop Production report, which will be released July 10.
Justin Gilpin, chief executive officer of the Kansas Wheat Commission, indicated the Kansas wheat crop average yield may reach a record 50 bus per acre or even a bit above. Mr. Gilpin attributed the outstanding productivity of Kansas wheat fields this year to improved genetics in the wheat cultivars being planted, favorable weather to maximize those genetics — including cool and wet conditions in April and May — and better management practices by producers, who made timely applications of fertilizer and fungicide to ensure the wheat reached its full potential.
Mr. Gilpin said high-yielding wheat was widespread across the state but especially in the south and central growing areas. He confirmed scattered stands of wheat exhibited yields of more than 100 bus per acre.
At the same time, millers pointed out wheat cultivars promising the best results with regard to yield may not provide wheat with the strongest milling and baking characteristics, including protein.
The U.S.D.A. on June 10 forecast Kansas farmers this year will harvest 393.6 million bus of wheat from 8.2 million acres. In 2003, when the Kansas average yield also was 48 bus per acre, the Kansas crop was 480 million bus harvested from 10 million acres. The 2003 crop average protein was 11.7%. The record year for wheat yield, 1998, saw Kansas farmers harvest their largest crop, 494.9 million acres, from 10.1 million acres. The average protein of the 1998 crop was 11.5%.
At this point, millers and bakers would be delighted with an 11.5%-protein Kansas crop but were not confident this will be achieved.
In comparison, the recent five-year (2011-15) average Kansas wheat yield was 36 bus per acre, and average protein was 12.7%.
The low-protein harvest prevailed across Texas and Oklahoma as well. U.S. Wheat Associates on June 24 indicated, based on 101 of 530 intended samples, that new crop hard red winter wheat was averaging 11.1% in protein. This was up from 10.7% as the average protein for the initial 46 samples as reported a week earlier. Last year’s average hard red winter wheat protein was 12.3%. The 101 samples averaged 61 lbs per bu in test weight compared with 59.3 lbs as the 2015 crop average. The average grade was No. 1 hard red winter versus No. 2 hard red winter in 2015.
All of the 101 samples were drawn from Texas, Oklahoma and southwest and south central Kansas.
In addition, U.S. Wheat indicated the initial 46 samples received the previous week, which were from north Texas and Oklahoma, were analyzed for falling number and thousand kernel weight, yielding initial values of 356 seconds (400 seconds as the average in 2015) and 32.1 grams (29.8 grams), respectively.
Zeroing in on Kansas, a major milling company provided an analysis of early wheat samples, stating, “The south central Kansas region for the hard red winter wheat is showing about a 10.7% protein average. Even with the lower protein, we are seeing only slightly lower absorptions than last year. The mixing requirement is showing about a 25% reduction as compared with last year. The internal bread crumb and grain scores are good. We are seeing slightly lower loaf volumes, especially on the wheat that is below 10.5% protein.
“This area has a high percentage of the Everest wheat variety, which is known to have lower mix strength and volume. The farinograph data also is showing similar absorptions to last year’s crop; however, the MTI (mixing tolerance index) values have gone up (average ~ 50 BU) and the stability values have gone down (average ~ 6.5 minutes). We are seeing a little higher protein (~11.3% average) in the central Kansas region, due to a few small pockets of 12% protein. Again, this region has a high percentage of Everest grown in it, so we are seeing similar baking attributes (lower mix requirement and slightly lower loaf volumes) in this area as well. Southwest Kansas had some rain last week, so we have not received enough samples to give a good evaluation yet.”
Another miller said bread bakers and other flour users should begin to consider now what adjustments they may have to make in consideration of a low-protein hard red winter wheat crop. He noted that protein levels may rise as the harvest extends northward into Nebraska and the northern Plains. He added there were 428 million bus of hard red winter wheat carried over into the current crop year, and much of this wheat may have protein of around 12%. But even with the carry-in and the possibility of higher protein levels in the late hard red winter wheat harvest, a very low-protein Kansas crop will factor heavily in what must guide milling and baking operations in 2016-17.
For baking companies requiring flour with relatively high protein, blending spring wheat flour with hard red winter wheat flour to produce the required blend may be an option, albeit an expensive one considering the price spread between spring wheat and hard winter wheat.Millers observed the low protein of new crop hard red winter wheat offered to date was reflected in the cash wheat basis as posted in Kansas City. Premiums on ordinary wheat and on wheat with 11% protein were quoted at a 40c discount to 11.4%-protein wheat (11.2% protein was quoted 36c a bu lower than 11.4%-protein wheat). Hard winter wheat with protein of 11% was quoted 73c below 12%-protein wheat and 85c below 13%-protein wheat.