As the 2012 hard winter harvest progresses through the Southwest at a startling pace, a growing number of flour millers have begun to express concern about wheat quality and what may be an unusually difficult transition to the new crop in the weeks and months ahead. While characteristics of the 2012 crop do not appear poor (and tests are ongoing), the problem noted is the contrast with 2011. The latter was described by one miller as “the strongest ever” crop, thus asserting that the year-to-year change may be the “sharpest ever.” In addition, it has been five years since millers and bakers have experienced a challenging crop, perhaps the longest such streak ever. Average protein of the 2012 Kansas crop is estimated at about a full percentage point beneath last year. As a result, bakers may need to blend hard spring into flour mixes or buy higher protein levels than simply the hard winter “crop average” that has worked so well in recent years. Other issues have been identified as well, such as the need for bakers to deal with decreases of up to 5% in dough absorption. Millers described preliminary loaf volumes from the 2012 crop as “looking good” and were confident that the situation was manageable if addressed. Close communications between buyers and sellers will be invaluable in making make this crop transition as seamless as possible.
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