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Editor’s Note: Important work has been done indicating that U.S. hard red spring (HRS) is a potential “clean label” ingredients for the world’s commercial bakers.  To help wheat buyers understand more about this opportunity, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) is reprinting  the following post originally published in October 2021.

The concept of “clean label” products is complex but increasingly important in food production and marketing. A blog by the chief science and technology officer for the U.S.-based Institute of Food Technologists (IFT) noted that clean label is not a scientific term.

“Rather, it is a consumer term that has been broadly accepted by the food industry, consumers, academics, and even regulatory agencies,” the IFT scientist wrote. “Essentially, clean label means making a product using as few ingredients as possible … that consumers recognize and think of as wholesome—ingredients that consumers might use at home … with easy-to-recognize ingredients and no artificial ingredients or synthetic chemicals.”

Familiar Example

Clean label has become associated with consumer trust in food producers. The main challenge associated with clean label products arises in part from regulations requiring labels to use scientific names for ingredients. Food makers know their ingredients are wholesome and safe, but the label may put off consumers without a scientific background. For example, the IFT clean label blog demonstrated the potential challenge for consumers who may be reading this familiar label: “Bleached Wheat Flour, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid Enzyme,” and not know that these are the scientific names for the ingredients in all-purpose flour found in homes around the world.

Expert Insight for the Baker

Food scientist Dr. Senay Simsek is well-known and respected by many of the world’s U.S. wheat end-product producers, serving as a USW consultant and as past head of the Wheat Quality & Carbohydrate Research Program at North Dakota State University (NDSU). Before her 2021 appointment as professor and Head of the Food Science Department at Purdue University, Dr. Simsek gave a detailed video presentation on the issue of clean labeling in the baking industry for USW’s 2020 U.S. Wheat Crop Quality program.

In that presentation, Dr. Simsek noted that the clean label concept is globally recognized. She cited a survey conducted in the Asia Pacific, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East and North America, indicating that almost half of consumers define clean label as “free from artificial ingredients.”

In studies at her NDSU program, Dr. Simsek had a graduate assistant identify all ingredients that can be found in baked bread products. In addition to flour and water, her team identified 53 different ingredients “with so many names that people have difficulty understanding like distilled monoglycerides or calcium peroxide, but which all have functionality.”

Dr. Simsek provided an in-depth look at many of the key ingredients and their bread baking functionality in the video. Noting the list of alternative dough strengthening ingredients, Dr. Simsek turned to the results of a study by her NDSU program comparing the performance of several alternative ingredient combinations.

The Clean Label Potential of Spring Wheat Flour

“The question was, can there an alternative to added chemical ingredients to strengthen the gluten structure in a way that is accepted by consumers and simplifies the label on white and whole wheat bread products?” she said.

The study used a commonly accepted winter wheat flour base as a control. Several formulations with spring wheat flour were added at different ratios to the base. Vital wheat gluten and different chemical dough strengtheners were also added to various formulations that were all baked and compared.

Conclusion Simsek Clean Label Bread Study

Dr. Simsek’s team at NDSU studied the effects on quality by adding strong gluten spring wheat to bread formulations compared to added dough strengthening agents. Replacing chemical agents with a simple flour ingredient could improve quality and simplify commercial baked product labels.

“In white bread, [crumb] firmness values were lower in the spring wheat blends compared to the control,” Dr. Simsek said in the USW video presentation. “If we just look at the bread comparing with chemicals versus the spring wheat blends, spring wheat blends were more functional, and they provided a better product compared to chemicals. Overall quality in terms of spring wheat blends versus the chemical, water observation was equal or better than additives, farinograph stability was better than additives, and the loaf volumes were equal or better than additives.”

Similar results were seen in whole wheat bread comparisons, Dr. Simsek said.

Noting that more investigation into the clean label potential of added strong gluten flour is needed to expand understanding, Dr. Simsek said, “the take-home message is that spring wheat could be a good option to replace oxidizing agents in bread formulations to have clean label bakery products.”

 

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As U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) President Vince Peterson often says, at any given hour of the day someone, somewhere, is talking about the quality, reliability and value of U.S. wheat. Wheat Letter wants to share just some of the ways USW has been working recently to build a preference for U.S. wheat in an ever more complex world wheat market.

Lauding Nutritious, Delicious U.S. Baking Ingredients in China

USW Beijing participated in the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS) “Discover U.S. Baking Ingredients and Trends” hybrid virtual promotion in August 2022 (activity banner in the photo above). The purpose of this activity was to raise Chinese bakers’ awareness of the nutrition, health benefits, taste, and versatility of U.S. baking ingredients. The FAS Agricultural Trade Office (ATO) in Beijing and 10 USDA Cooperators with products ranging from wheat, dried fruit and nuts to dairy sponsored the activity partnering with the China Association of Bakery and Confectionery Industry.

USW Beijing staff with ATO Beijing at a U.S. Baking Ingredients event.

In-store promotion product 2 using U.S. dried blueberry and California almond slices and U.S. wheat flour

In-store promotion products using U.S. dried blueberry and California almond slices and U.S. wheat flour.

ATO Beijing reported the activity reached an audience of over 2.5 million netizens in China through social media platforms and

over 200,000 real-time viewers through livestreaming. There was also in-store promotions at leading bakery houses in Beijing where “consumers warmly welcomed the new products featuring U.S. baking ingredients,” ATO Beijing reported. Additionally, ATO Beijing strengthened connections with baking associations and businesses and generated trade leads with this activity. Read more here.

USW Beijing Technical Specialist Ting Liu and Marketing Specialist Kaiwen Wu played direct roles representing the essential quality of flour from U.S. wheat in the events. In the three full marketing years since the trade war ended, China has imported a total of more than 168 million bushels (4.58 million metric tons) of U.S. hard red winter (HRW), hard red spring (HRS), soft white (SW) and soft red winter (SRW) wheat, and have already imported almost 23 million bushels of U.S. wheat in the current marketing year that ends May 31, 2023.

Helping a Mexican Baker Expand Sales

In a technical support activity demonstrating to Mexican bakers how to extend their product lines using U.S. wheat flour, USW Mexico City enlisted Baking

U.S. Wheat consultant Didier Rosada

Didier Rosada

Consultant Didier Rosada to conduct an in-depth, multi-day workshop for one of the top three baking groups in Mexico. The commercial baker selected their best 25 master bakers to learn how to produce internationally recognized sourdough, functional breads, and savory breads for retail bakery sales. Rosada also demonstrated how to standardize pre-fermentation and natural sourdough processes to optimize production efficiency, products consistency, and quality in every store.

Baking is changing in a good way,” Rosada said. “At my bakery, my process is as natural as possible, with long fermentation time, like it used to be done, to bring back the flavor profile of a good bread, its shelf life and texture, etc. And U.S. wheat classes are perfect for that. I am using a flour that is almost 100 percent hard red winter or sometimes combined with hard red spring wheat.”

Mexico is the leading importer of U.S. wheat in the world.

Healthier Wheat Foods for Older Taiwanese Consumers

Chinese wheat foods seminar

Well-known Taiwanese chefs demonstrated healthy Chinese wheat food products .

USW Taipei collaborated with the Department of Food and Beverage Management of Shih Chien University (USC) to conduct workshops on Chinese Wheat Food for the Elderly in October 2022. Chinese wheat foods are popular but a survey by the university indicated that more than 60% of elderly Taiwanese are not satisfied with the healthiness of the products.

USW Taipei Country Director Boyuan Chen and Technologist Wei-lin Chou invited well-known Taiwanese chefs to teach methods for making healthy handmade noodles, pan-fried stuffed buns, silk thread rolls, and pan-fried sweet potato pastry as well as steamed breads using U.S. wheat white flour and whole wheat flour. The 40 participants included teachers, students, and long-term elderly care community volunteers who made pan-fried stuffed buns for the elderly just after the workshop.

U.S. wheat imports by Taiwan have averaged 43.2 million bushels (1.18 million metric tons) of HRS, HRW and SW per year since 2017/18.

Continuing Milling Education Interrupted by COVID in Korea

USW Seoul had started to educate Food Technology undergraduate students at Won Kwang University about the fundamentals of U.S. wheat and flour milling technology in 2018. USW Seoul Food/Bakery Technologist Shin Hak (David) Oh resumed that effort this year. The goal is to give these future industry professionals a better understanding of why flour products from U.S. wheat make superior quality ingredients for Korean wheat foods. The early exposure to U.S. wheat and the value-added technical support from USW also builds future productive relationships.

On average the past five marketing years, South Korean millers have imported about 56.7 million bushels (1.54 million metric tons) of U.S. HRW, HRS, SW and SRW wheat per year.

USW Baking Technogist Shin Hak Oh lecturing to Korean food industry students on U.S. wheat and milling technology

USW Baking Technogist Shin Hak Oh lecturing to Korean food industry students on U.S. wheat and milling technology

U.S. Soft Wheat Best for Cookies, Cakes

USW Cape Town sent six participants from a large South African food company to a specialty soft wheat flour course at the Wheat Marketing Center in Portland, Ore., earlier in 2022. The course focused on cookies, crackers, and cakes made with flour from SRW and SW compared to flour from local and imported hard wheat that is used in South Africa. The participants also visited local grocery stores to gain insight into the many, varied U.S. products made from soft wheat flours.

USW Cape Town Regional Director Chad Weigand accompanied the food industry professionals to the course. He said participants were very impressed with the course results and comparative product quality, and he expected the company to begin testing products made with U.S. soft wheat flour.

Read more here about the South African wheat market.

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The 2022 U.S. HRS crop recovered from last year’s historic drought. This crop has many positive attributes, including higher supply levels, strong grading characteristics, little to no DON and sound kernel characteristics. Overall protein is lower, but over half of the crop still has protein levels of 14% (12% mb) or higher. While dough strength shows weaker than last year, buyers will find a crop that compares well with the five-year average.  Buyers can buy with confidence, but diligent contract specifications are still the best way to get the quality demanded.

The Season in Review

PLANTING varied across the region, with a timely mid-April start and finish in western and southern areas, compared to a historically late start and sluggish progress across central and eastern areas. Excessive soil moisture pushed final planting into mid-June over a large area, about three weeks behind normal.

Crop EMERGENCE was hindered in parts of the region due to a prolonged cold, wet spring. By June, conditions shifted to warm and dry, benefiting the overly wet areas and later planted crops, but drier, western areas experienced some crop stress. The growing season was favorable with adequate moisture and no excessive heat, promoting strong yield potential, except for drier western areas.

HARVEST began later than normal, but by August, warm, dry conditions allowed for rapid progress and accelerated development of the later planted fields. Favorable conditions continued into September, allowing for a quick harvest; harvest in parts of the region extended into early October.

PRODUCTION of the U.S. HRS crop, at 12.1 MMT, is up 50%, following last year’s severe drought.

HRS map

2022 Crop Highlights

The average GRADE for the 2022 HRS harvest survey is U.S. No. 1 Northern Spring (NS); 97% of Eastern Region samples and 85% of Western Region samples grade U.S. No. 1.

Average TEST WEIGHT is 62.1 lb/bu (81.6 kg/hl), higher than 2021 and 5-year averages.

Overall, the crop has lower VITREOUS KERNEL LEVELS (DHV), averaging 74% compared to 80% in 2021 but higher than the 5-year average.  Average DHV is higher for Western samples at 88% but lower for Eastern samples at 59% due to lower protein and lack of stress during the growing season.

PROTEIN averages 14.3% (12% mb), below 2021 and 5-year averages due to higher yields in areas and less stress during the growing season.

DON levels were near zero due to minimal disease pressures.

Average 1000 KERNEL WEIGHT (TKW) is 30.4 g, above 2021 and similar to the 5-year average.

A dry harvest produced a very sound crop with an average FALLING NUMBER of 386 sec.

Pictured are scenes from the 2022 hard red spring harvest in South Dakota. This year's crop made a substantial recovery from last year's drought-affected crop.

Pictured are scenes from the 2022 hard red spring harvest in South Dakota. This year’s crop made a substantial recovery from last year’s drought-affected crop.

Flour and Dough Data

BUHLER LABORATORY MILL FLOUR YIELD averages 66.2%, slightly higher than 2021 but lower than the 5-year average. Lab mill settings are not adjusted to account for kernel parameter shifts between crop years and a wider variance in TKW and kernel size may have impacted milling yield.

Average FLOUR ASH is 0.49%, equal to 2021 but significantly lower than the 5-year average of 0.53%.

WET GLUTEN averages 34.5%, notably lower than 2021 and 5-year averages.

AMYLOGRAPH values average 724 BU, down from 2021 but up notably from the 5-year average.

DOUGH PROPERTIES suggest a weaker, more extensible crop as compared to last year. Dough property values are more in line with five-year average values.

The average LOAF VOLUME is 938 cc, lower than 2021 and 5-year averages; Western area averages 940 cc and Eastern area averages 937 cc.

Average BAKE ABSORPTION is 71.4%, significantly higher than 2021 and 5-year averages.

BREAD SCORES are similar to 2021 and the 5-year average.

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In an example of USW’s commitment to service, it has combined knowledge with experience to extend the shelf life of bakery products. Headline photo: USW Baking Consultant Roy Chung leading a bread baking course at the UFM Baking and Cooking School in Bangkok, Thailand. (Photo courtesy of UFM)

Expanding the window of time breads and cakes remain fresh would help retailers, food distributors and bakers around the world broaden their customer bases and grow their businesses. It would also benefit the U.S. wheat industry, which provides a key ingredient for baked goods in international markets.

But can the window really be expanded? U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) believes it can.

In an example of USW’s commitment to service, the organization’s technical staff and consultants have combined knowledge with experience to extend the shelf life of bakery products. USW has “explored all possibilities” to develop processes and procedures that result in products remaining fresh for days – even weeks – longer than current standards.

Eager to Share the Knowledge

USW, which plans to conduct educational courses late next year or early in 2024 to share what it has learned on the topic, is confident its classrooms will be full.

Most of USW’s work on extending shelf life has been conducted in Southeast Asia, but the lessons learned apply to every bakery across the globe.

“In Southeast Asia, a typical shelf life of bread is seven days, and the maximum shelf life is about 10 days,” explained USW Baking Consultant Roy Chung, who is based in Singapore. “For large bakeries and food distributors, extending it beyond that 10 days would mean they could sell baked goods in towns and villages farther away from their manufacturing base. Retail markets would benefit. Consumers would benefit. Everyone up and down the supply chain would benefit, too.”

USW is planning to conduct educational courses to share what it has learned about extending the shelf life of baked goods.

USW is planning to conduct educational courses to share what it has learned about extending the shelf life of bread and other baked goods. Lessons taught in the courses will apply to bakeries in every region of the world.

The ‘Squeeze Test’

Shelf life is defined as “the time during which a freshly-manufactured product remains acceptable to the consumer.”  Of course, consumers in each region have different tastes and preferences, but the main goal of extending shelf life is universal: The product must pass the “squeeze test.”

The test plays out every day, in every grocery or supermarket. A shopper eases up to a bakery shelf, positions a hand over an unsuspecting loaf of bread and gently squeezes in order to judge the freshness of a prospective purchase.

USW’s work aims to help more loaves and baked goods pass the squeeze test long after leaving a baker’s oven. The result would be more consumers in more places having the ability to purchase the products. That in turn creates more demand for U.S. wheat.

Enemies of Shelf Life

According to Chung, the two major factors that lead to failure in extending shelf life are mold and staling.

“These are separate issues that must be tackled separately, and those are the things we have been working on,” he said. “The mold problem involves things like sanitation, moisture, temperature, relative humidity, water activity and the use of preservatives. The staling problem involves formulation and ingredients selection.”

Tools and formulas in the effort are many, including natural gums and enzymes, sugars and fats, and chemical additives and alternatives to chemical additives. Packaging innovations are being addressed, too, such as packing bread and other baked goods in airtight plastic under a modified atmosphere.

The tools and formulas used are designed to match consumer preferences.

For example, the European market is less accepting of additives. The typical shelf life of a loaf of bread was traditionally one day, but now is 2 to 3 days.

“This is achieved either by using very high-quality wheat such as hard red winter (HRW) or hard red spring (HRS), which have a slower rate of natural staling than some lower-cost wheats,” Peter Lloyd, USW Regional Technical Manager based in Morocco, said. “Our efforts in the European Union and Middle East regions also promotes the use of HRS wheat in bread as a way of getting to cleaner labeling (less additives), a growing issue in that part of the world.”

Longer Shelf Life, Cleaner Labels

The various requirements and preferences in different countries and regions makes the USW effort to extend shelf life of breads and baked goods an ideal subject for baker education.

And a perfect topic for USW’s planned training course and technical support for its overseas customers.

“There are many details involved in achieving the ultimate goal of reaching more consumers with quality bakery products made with U.S. wheat,” said Chung. “We are planning to offer a course that addresses all those details, and from the conversations we have had, there is tremendous interest everywhere.”

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A dramatic increase in demand for oilseeds could impact U.S. wheat production in coming years, with significantly more acres expected to be planted in soybeans destined for new and expanded crushing facilities.

Between 20 million and 25 million additional acres of soybeans will be needed to meet requirements of the renewable diesel industry, some analysts are predicting.

At the same time, global demand for wheat is also expected to rise, setting up dynamic competition for acreage in states where both crops are grown. For the U.S. wheat industry, the situation creates important questions: How much wheat acreage could potentially be lost to soybeans? Will lost acres impact the U.S.’ standing as the world’s most dependable wheat supplier? Can wheat and soybeans co-exist in a competitive environment?

This chart shows acreage planted in soybeans and wheat in 2022 in the country's top 10 soybean states, according to USDA's National Agricultural Statistics Service.

This chart shows total acreage planted in soybeans and total acreage planted in wheat in the country’s top 10 soybean states in 2022, according to USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS).

Where possible, farmers may adapt and double-crop more wheat and soybeans to maintain supplies of both crops. It is already a common practice in top soybean states like Illinois, Indiana and Ohio, where soft red winter wheat is the dominant class. But in soybean states that produce hard red winter and hard red spring wheat – Kansas, Nebraska, South Dakota and North Dakota, for example – allotting acreage is more complicated due to average rainfall and shorter growing seasons.

The ultimate question is if U.S. farmers will be able to meet the demand for both wheat and soybeans by doing what they have always done – figure out a way to do more with less.

Many Options, Limited Acres

Mike Krueger, a grain industry consultant with Lida Communications, put a spotlight on the emerging “competition for acreage” during last month’s U.S. Wheat Associates World Staff Conference.

While describing volatility in global wheat and grain markets due uncertain market conditions, Krueger noted a more predictable factor that will affect markets and decisions made by U.S farmers.

“Renewable diesel is projected to increase eight-fold by 2030 and significant investments of more than $2 billion are being put into new and expanded soybean processing plants in the U.S. right now,” Krueger explained. “The U.S. soybean crush will expand by 10%, or more. We are talking vast numbers, and while sunflower and canola should be big beneficiaries of renewable diesel, soybeans are certainly going to be in even higher demand.”

A boost of 20 million acres would catapult soybean and go a long way toward meeting the projected oilseeds demand.

But at what cost?

The U.S. has consistently ranked as one of the top five wheat producing countries in the world and one of the top three wheat exporting countries. Would a major shift in acreage affect U.S. production, thus its place as a supplier?

“We must remember there’s also a global demand for wheat, as well as corn, and we have to consider ongoing drought and weather patterns, not to mention political conflicts that are impacting grain production and supplies all over the world,” Krueger said. “All of this, all the things going on that affect global trade, will put major emphasis on overall crop production in the U.S. and the entire Northern Hemisphere. To be honest, no crop can afford to give up or lose acres.”

Can Double-cropping Help?

Higher prices caused by global demand for wheat and soybeans appears to be motivating more farmers in the Midwest to consider seeding soft red winter wheat in the fall and soybeans in the same field following wheat harvest.

About 40% of producers responding to a Purdue University Ag Economy Barometer survey in June indicated they have utilized a wheat and soybean double-crop rotation in the past. About 28% of those producers planned to increase the amount of cropland devoted to this rotation by seeding more wheat this fall followed by soybean plantings on the same acres in spring 2023.

Some analysts have predicted that renewable diesel demand in coming years will require the planting of at least 20 million additional acres of soybeans. This chart from USDA shows soybean acreage over the past decade.

Some analysts have predicted that renewable diesel demand in coming years will require the planting of at least 20 million additional acres of soybeans. This chart from USDA shows soybean acreage and harvest over the past decade.

Ultimately, the biggest factor behind whether farmers begin growing an extra crop of wheat is what price they can get for the crop.

“The shift toward increasing soft red winter wheat acreage is likely the result of the expected profitability improvement of the wheat and double-crop soybean rotation,” James Mintert and Michael Langemeier, authors of the Purdue survey, noted.

A move by the federal government earlier this year to increase the number of counties eligible for double-cropping insurance was a move aimed at boosting U.S. production of wheat and soybeans by reducing the risk for farmers who decide to take the double-crop route.

Producers are well-aware that there are drawbacks to double-cropping wheat and soybeans.

“Compared to single-crop soybeans, double-crop soybeans have a shorter growing season due to the delay in planting until the wheat is harvested, which often result in reduced yields,” said Scott Gerlt, Chief Economist for the American Soybean Association (ASA). “Despite this drawback, double-cropping does allow increased production.”

Wheat Demand to Grow

Despite questions about acreage and production, U.S. wheat continues to be in demand by international customers because of its consistent quality and reliability.

Krueger expects the demand will continue to expand.

“A primary reason is that global wheat supplies are likely to shrink due to a renewed focus on soybeans, and to a lesser extent, corn,” Krueger said. “Another factor favoring U.S. producers involves shipping and logistics limitations that hamper competing wheat-growing countries, including Russia and Ukraine.”

Effects from a third consecutive La Nina would further pressure global supplies.

“These things will undoubtedly lead to more export demand for wheat,” Krueger said. “Can the U.S. meet the demand? That is the puzzle that’s still being put together. Farmers make decisions every single planting season. They only have so many acres to work with.”

 

 

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The 2022 Hard Spring Wheat Tour sponsored by the Wheat Quality Council ended July 28 with a very positive outlook for the U.S. hard red spring (HRS) and durum crop. The wheat is behind its normal development at this time of year because of late planting, but more than 50 industry participants determined a total weighted average HRS yield estimate of 49.1 bushels per acre (about 3.3 metric tons per hectare). The weighted average durum yield was 39 bu/a, or about 2.7 MT/ha.

Those estimates are the highest since the spring wheat tour estimated an average HRS yield of 49.9 bu/a in 2015. Following the drought-ravaged 2021 crop, the much-improved potential of this crop is welcome news to spring wheat farmers. Harvest is not expected to start for at least 3 weeks, depending on weather conditions but the industry is cautiously optimistic.

Photo of Tyllor Ledford on 2022 Spring Wheat Tour

Measuring for Yield Potential. USW Assistant Director, West Coast Office, Tyllor Ledford measures a section of a North Dakota HRS crop to start calculating yield potential on the 2022 Hard Spring Wheat tour. Photo by Jeff Beach, AgWeek.

Neal Fisher, Executive Director of the North Dakota Wheat Commission told Progressive Farmer/DTN that there is a lot of potential “if we do not have an early frost of rain at harvest, and we can keep diseases [and pests] at bay.” The spring wheat tour scouts did see evidence of grasshopper damage in the crop, pest pressure likely resulting from the drought last year.

Happy Customer

In the same article, a representative of a large U.S. snack food company said participating in the spring wheat tour helped him understand future [supply] risks. He added that he was happy with the yield potential and thought the wheat quality “was great.”

Buyers and Farmers Together

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Assistant Director, West Coast Office, Tyllor Ledford participated in the 2022 spring wheat tour. Dave Green, Executive Director, Wheat Quality Council, noted that having representatives from milling and wheat food processing industries participate with farmers and other stakeholders is a crucial part of the annual tours.

The real value of the tour said one farmer is connecting with buyers and end-users in the fields to show them how farmers manage their crops for the best potential yield and functional quality.

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On behalf of the U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Transportation Working Group, we* appreciate the opportunity to provide comments on the draft Lower Snake River Dams Benefit Replacement Report.

The draft report raises serious concerns among U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and its member states. The USW Transportation Working Group (TWG) questions many of the baseline assumptions argued in the draft report. The draft is incomplete because many of the key variables cannot be quantified. The Lower Snake River Dams (LSRD) provide a critical need that moves U.S.-grown wheat to high-value markets around the world. Breaching the dams would have serious economic consequences for producers and grain handlers. Removing the dams also runs counter to achieving climate-friendly goals.

Barging Benefits

USW strongly supports the sustainability and reliability of wheat transportation by barge. The Columbia Snake River System is an essential part of a logistical web that moves over half of all U.S. wheat exports to more than 20 Pacific Rim countries and encompasses some of the largest U.S. wheat buyers in the world. The Snake River moves more than 10% of all wheat that is exported from the United States. Because of the cost savings conveyed by barging grain and examples used in the draft report, we can conclude that farmers save considerably by using the waterway in place of rail or truck and are able to pass on savings to consumers.

Barge loading wheat to move through Lower Snake River Dams and down the Columbia River to export elevators.

The Lower Snake River Dams provide critical needs for wheat farmers, grain handlers, merchandisers, and millers. The draft report clearly outlines the benefits enjoyed by grain handlers, “barging is the lowest-cost option (per ton-mile) for wheat shipping, an additional benefit for Pacific Northwest producers, as they operate on narrow cost margins and use barging to maximize their profit per bushel.” Shifting the current volume of wheat and other grains moving via barge on the LSRD over to rail or truck is not a viable and straightforward solution as portions of the draft study imply. Rail and truck cost significantly more on a per bushel basis, and trucks have distance limitations.

Breaching Increases Transportation Costs

An excerpt from the draft report outlines the literal costs to farmers: “One of the most significant transportation impacts connected with LSRD breaching is shipping costs. Several studies cite shipping prices during scheduled lock outages for maintenance between December 2010 and March 2011 and found that during the outage, over 90% of the grain by volume was shipped by rail and that shippers experienced a nearly 40% increase in shipping and storage costs.” This example shows that railroads will use their power to raise rates when other alternatives, like the river system, are unavailable.

The Port of Lewiston is the most inland port in the U.S, Pacific Northwest. Its placement on the Snake River allows farmers in Idaho and other states to barge their wheat efficiently and affordably. The U.S. competes with six other primary wheat-exporting countries. According to the Foreign Agricultural Service (FAS), the United States is the third-largest wheat exporter in the world. However, for the U.S. to remain competitive with other wheat exporting nations, export prices must remain competitive. Inland transportation costs are a primary factor in determining the competitiveness of U.S. wheat. Using barges to ship grain is one of the most efficient and cost-effective ways that U.S. wheat farmers stay competitive.

Rail Cannot Make Up Difference

All wheat production zones in the U.S. would be impacted, not just those in close proximity to the Lower Snake River Dams system. The U.S. rail system has some severe issues with service and reliability, and in recent years, tariff costs to move wheat have steadily increased. Adding more volume to the system would raise costs for all farmers and lead to a decline in service for a significant portion of all U.S. wheat producers. This would directly impact U.S. wheat’s global competitiveness as an export market.

Transporting wheat by barge is an environmentally friendly alternative to rail and truck hauling. One four-barge tow can move as much grain as 144 rail cars or 538 semi-trucks. Removing the dams would not only remove clean hydroelectricity but would mandate more significant carbon emissions as grain handlers are forced to rely on railroads and semi-trucks for long-haul delivery to export facilities in Portland and elsewhere.

Map of the Columbia Snake River System from Pacific Northwest Waterways Association

Eight Steps Down. Lock and dam systems on the Columbia Snake River System allow barges to efficiently and safely navigate the 222-meter elevation change from Lewiston, Idaho, to export elevators as far west as Longview, Wash.

More Competition Not Less

The draft report provides no sincere considerations for alternative freight, and what suggestions it does make are unrealistic. While railroads and trucks compete with barge companies to move grain, farmers and grain handlers would be held captive without barges as an alternative.

USW supports the Columbia Snake River System and will continue to emphasize its importance in serving wheat buyers worldwide. Breaching of the dams on the Lower Snake River would have a devastating economic impact on wheat production and market competitiveness, not just in the Pacific Northwest Region, but nationally.

*This article represents public comments by the USW Transportation Working Group to the Lower Snake River Dams Benefit Replacement Report submitted July 11, 2022, by working group co-chairs Jim Peterson, Policy and Marketing Director, North Dakota Wheat Commission, and Charlie Vogel, Executive Director, Minnesota Wheat Research & Promotion Council.

 

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The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) as of Sunday, June 5, reported spring wheat planting at 82% complete, 15-points below the 5-year average of 97% and below analysts’ expectations of 86%. Spring wheat planting was up just 9-points from the week before, dragged down by slow progress in North Dakota and Minnesota. Idaho, Montana, South Dakota, and Washington planting were much further along averaging 98% planted, slightly ahead of the 5-year average.

Farmers in the upper Great Plains are likely disappointed at mother nature’s refusal to cooperate. After dry conditions in 2021, hard red spring (HRS) wheat production was down 44% compared to 2020. Planting conditions remained dry until late spring when heavy snow, persistent rain, and spring flooding made planting difficult due to the excess moisture.

A line chart showing U.S. spring wheat planting progress.

Planting Delay Perspective. This chart showing the percentage of U.S. spring wheat planting progress for the past several years showed planting in 2022 (thick black line) was far behind as of mid-May. Farmers moved quickly when conditions allowed and as of June 6, planting progress stood at 82%. Source: USDA/NASS.

Saturated Soil

Saturated fields are hard to move heavy farming equipment in. The equipment can also compact soil and tear up fields. Additionally, crops can emerge unevenly, if at all, in soggy soil. In the eastern part of North Dakota, flooding along the Red River caused road conditions to become impassable impacting field access for farmers. Finally, farmers must consider the impact of delayed planting; when spring wheat is planted too late the crop can yield less.

North Dakota

North Dakota, the largest spring wheat producing state, reported 74% of the HRS crop planted, compared to 59% the week before and 23-points below the 5-year average of 97%. Rain the last weekend in May delayed planting for some producers. Across the state, conditions differ, according to the most recent North Dakota Wheat Commission update some farmers have finished planting while others are less than halfway done. Some fields remain too wet to plant and more rain is in the forecast this week. Planting past this week is not ideal the commission notes but farmers are doing as much as they can to get their crop in the ground.

Minnesota

The USDA reported Minnesota at 65% planted for the week of June 6, 33-points behind the 5-year average of 98%. Farmers in Minnesota made significant progress between the weeks of May 22 and May 29 when HRS planting went from 11% to 53%, an impressive jump that shows what can be done in good weather conditions. Still, Minnesota farmers have much progress to make in the days ahead to get their wheat in the ground.

Canada

Conditions are not much different in Canada’s spring wheat production region. Dry weather last year also cut production while abundant rain this year is slowing planting progress. In Manitoba, the Canadian province adjacent to North Dakota, seeding progress was 40% for the week through May 31, compared to the 5-year average of 91%. Like North Dakota and Minnesota, Canadian farmers are dealing with saturated and flooded fields.

By Michael Anderson, U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) Market Analyst

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In the increasingly competitive global wheat market, it is important to review the advantages that U.S. wheat delivers to millers and bakers. This post examines the advantages that hard red spring wheat brings to the market.


This post discusses the value U.S. hard red spring (HRS) wheat brings to the global market. HRS is the second largest wheat class with a five-year annual average production of 13.7 million metric tons (MMT)or about 504 million bushels as of 2020/21. It accounts for about 26% of the total wheat produced in the United States.

The three subclasses of HRS include Dark Northern Spring (DNS) with 75% or more of dark, hard and vitreous (DHV) kernels; Northern Spring (NS) with 25% or more but less than 75% DHV kernels; and Red Spring (RS) with less than 25% DHV kernels.

Milling Advantages

U.S. HRS wheat poses some unique opportunities and challenges to the miller. HRS is the hardest of all the non-durum classes of wheat but also has the smallest average kernel size. Millers experienced with HRS in their grist know excellent results can be achieved with some adjustments.

First, adjusting the screen sizes of separating equipment in the cleaning house will reduce the risk of losing good quality but also results in smaller kernels. A longer conditioning time is needed to ensure the tempering water fully penetrates the harder HRS wheat kernels. Optimal conditioning time is dependent on several factors, but in most cases, HRS will require a minimum of 20 hours for optimal conditioning time. The miller’s reward for these adjustments is higher than average flour yield from the harder, more compact HRS endosperm. The hard endosperm creates excellent granulation through the break system to provide an abundance of stock to the purifiers. This allows the miller to maximize flour with low ash and excellent color throughout the head end of the mill.

Baking Advantages

Because of the high protein content and strong dough characteristic of U.S. hard red spring wheat flour, it is commonly used in a blend to improve the performance of a lower protein base flour. Only a few end products such as artisan-style bread, whole wheat products, and bagels may be made with 100% HRS flour to achieve optimal performance. For nearly any type of bread or leavened bread product such as thick pizza crust, the greatest value of HRS flour comes from blending it with a lower protein, lower-cost flour to create optimal ingredients for individual products. In markets where consumers demand a “clean label,” HRS flour blended with HRW or other wheat flour can create better water absorption and loaf volume while using less or no chemical dough improvers. And many pasta makers around the world know that when traditional durum wheat semolina is not needed, HRS wheat flour or semolina is a very acceptable alternative.

U.S. Wheat Advantages

As we highlight each class in this series, let us not forget the advantages that all U.S. wheat classes bring to the market. First, and perhaps the most important, is consistency in quality and supply. Although each new crop year brings different challenges and opportunities, U.S. wheat is always available to the global market. Second, U.S. wheat delivers variety. Wheat is a raw material manufactured into a bakery ingredient, flour. The flour made from each unique class of U.S. wheat brings value to the market in the unique quality characteristics to make a variety of baked goods and noodles. It is also important to understand the value of blending flour from one or more types of wheat to optimize the flour performance at a minimal cost.

Each region, country, and culture have wheat-based food products that are uniquely their own. With six unique wheat classes, the United States has the right wheat class to deliver the optimal quality and value for every variety of products on the market.

Learn more about the six classes of U.S. wheat here or leave a question in the U.S. Wheat Associates’ “Ask The Expert” section.

By Mark Fowler, USW Vice President of Global Technical Services


Read more about other U.S. wheat classes in this series.

Hard Red Winter
Hard White
Soft White
Soft Red Winter
Durum

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The U.S. 2021 Hard Red Spring (HRS) crop endured significant drought conditions, leading to a sharp yield reduction and increased abandonment. Despite the moisture stressed growing season, the quality parameters of the crop are very good, with high protein content, high vitreous levels, low kernel moisture and sound kernels. Buyers will be pleased with this year’s improved dough strength and higher absorption values. With reduced supply and isolated areas with higher levels of shrunken and broken and lighter 1000 kernel weights, buyers should always remain diligent in their contract specifications.

2021 map of 2021 hard red spring wheat production and sampling

Weather and Harvest

Limited moisture allowed for fast planting, but cool temperatures or overly dry topsoil delayed emergence in parts of the growing region. Above-average temperatures, minimal precipitation and high winds stressed a significant share of the crop. A dry, rapid harvest period limited disease pressures and benefitted kernel quality parameters. USDA estimates production at 8.1 million metric tons, 44% below last year.

2021 Crop Highlights

  • Grade – the overall average is U.S. No. 1 Dark Northern Spring (DNS).
  • Test Weight averages 61.3 lb/bu (80.6 kg/hl), slightly lower than the 2020 and 5-year averages.
  • Vitreous Kernel Levels (DHV) improved, averaging 80% compared to 71% in 2020.
  • Protein averages 15.4% (12% mb), above 2020 and 5-year averages.
  • DON levels were near zero due to minimal disease pressures.
  • 1000 Kernel Weight average is 29 g, below 2020 and 5-year averages.
  • Falling Number average is 377 sec, benefited by a rapid, dry harvest.
  • Wet Gluten averages 37.4%, notably higher than 2020 and 5-year averages, supported by high kernel protein content.
  • Amylograph values average 732 BU for 65 g of flour, up notably from recent levels.
  • Farinograph testing indicates a much stronger crop than in recent years, with an average stability of 18.8 min.
  • Alveograph and Extensograph analyses show greater resistance and less extensibility.
  • Loaf Volume average is 952 cc, lower than 2020 and 5-year averages.
  • Bake Absorption average is 66.4%, down from 2020 but similar to the 5-year average.
  • Bread Scores are higher than 2020 and 5-year averages.

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) has posted more about the 2021 hard red spring crop here and the full regional report here.

2021 Crop Quality Data on Other U.S. Wheat Classes

Hard Red Winter
Soft Red Winter
Soft White
Northern Durum
Desert Durum® And California Hard Red Winter
Hard White