Grain supply chain finds it’s good to talk
These are exciting times for wheat genomics, believes RAGT’s Simon Howell
New varieties need to do much more than just deliver year-on-year yield gains of at least 2%. New varieties need to push the boundaries of what both growers and end users expect, because if they don’t, then we in the plant breeding world aren’t delivering the value and innovation that we should be.
Barn fillers, as we describe the top-yielding Group 4 wheats, are rightly still the mainstay for most wheat growers, because they dilute the per tonne costs of production. But looking at seed sales for this autumn, the Group 4s are selling fast and growers seem to be slowly shifting their thinking and buying to the higher yielding Group 3s as barn fillers in their own right. In my view, it’s a shrewd move, because there are premiums to be had via buy-back contracts for the milling and distilling trade for the right varieties.
Group 3s spark interest
Scanning the 2011 Recommended List of wheat varieties it’s not surprising that the Group 3s are sparking interest this year; varieties such as Tuxedo and Invicta have UK treated yields on a par with or exceeding the Group 4 stalwarts such as Viscount, Alchemy, Duxford and Grafton, particularly when you add in the £5-£15/tonne premium you can earn on a variety such as Tuxedo with a milling buy-back contract.
We have a unique product in the British grown Group 3s from the supply chain here in the UK and on the Continent and it’s an opportunity that can be capitalised on for harvest 2012.
I’d also argue that because we can grow the biscuit wheats the millers and bakers want, we’re seeing a step-change in end-user engagement and integration with growers as well as with us plant breeders.
United Biscuits has made its intentions clear: it wants to secure future supplies of British bred and British grown Group 3s. Premier Foods has also expressed early interest in Tuxedo, as has United Biscuits and ADM with Torch. Some European biscuit and snack manufacturers are following suit.
The other dimension to supply chain partnerships is communication. The dialogue between end users and plant breeders has grown apace – they tell us what they want and why they want it – which means we get their thinking into our UK and European breeding programmes early.
This dialogue also helps to communicate the issues and vagaries that farmers have in growing wheat for them.
Supply chain dialogue brings other opportunities. We are trialling French and German varieties here in the UK with a view to UK farmers growing these varieties and supplying them locally to food manufacturers. The chain is understandably keen to keep tabs on progress because a local supply means less transport, as well as giving them a very valuable British provenance and lower food miles marketing story.
It’s really heartening to see how the food supply chain wants to engage with and communicate with plant breeders as well as growers. And with good cause; manufacturers need to secure long-term supply of raw ingredients for the viability of their brands, while growers need to secure long-term and profitable market outlets. The good Group 3s bring that dual market opportunity and we hope that our role in developing the right varieties with associated buy-back contracts will secure long-term value for British wheat growers.
- Simon Howell is the managing director of seed breeder RAGT Seeds.