Defining U.S. Wheat’s Comparative (Competitive) Advantage: Durum
By Mark Fowler, USW Vice President of Global Technical Services
In the increasingly competitive global wheat market, it is important to review the advantages that U.S. wheat delivers to millers and bakers. In a series of six articles, we will review the advantages that each unique class of U.S. wheat brings to the market.
Durum is the pasta wheat and the fifth largest class of wheat grown in the United States with an annual average production over the last five years of 2.06 million metric tons (MMT), or about 75.67 million bushels. In part because of regional economies of scale, U.S. imports of durum at a 5-year average are at 1.18 million metric tons (MMT) while export volume at a 5-year average is a little less than 650 thousand metric tons (TMT.)
Northern durum is grown in North Dakota, Minnesota and Montana, and is primarily exported through the Lakes via the St. Lawrence Seaway or the Gulf. Desert Durum® is a registered certification mark owned by the Arizona Grain Research and Promotion Council and the California Wheat Commission, which authorize the use of the mark only to designated durum grain produced under irrigation in the desert valleys and lowlands of Arizona and California. Desert Durum® is exported from the Gulf or the West Coast.
U.S. durum is competitive with Canadian durum in the global market. U.S. durum is represented by three subclasses controlling for hard, vitreous kernel (HVK) content. Subclass options include: Hard Amber Durum (HAD) with more than 75 percent vitreous kernels; Amber Durum with 60 to 74 percent vitreous kernels; and Durum with less than 60 percent vitreous kernels. Higher HVK values yield a larger quantity of semolina. U.S. durum has a large kernel size as well, creating the opportunity for millers to again benefit from higher extraction rates.
Desert Durum® is harvested and shipped at a very low moisture content. This is an advantage to millers that contributes to efficient transportation costs, high extraction rates, and allows them to add significantly more water during the tempering and conditioning phase of processing.
The finest quality pasta is the primary product made from U.S. durum – long goods, short goods, pasta of all shapes and sizes. Couscous is another product made from durum, as well as some varieties of traditional Mediterranean semolina bread. Whatever the product made from durum, one quality factor is the most critical to the consumer – color. Pasta, in its purest form, is water and durum semolina; couscous is large semolina boiled and eaten as an alternative to rice. In both products, consumers prefer a bright yellow, translucent appearance that U.S. durum delivers because of its higher level of HVK. The higher HVK also allows the miller to provide a more uniform, consistent semolina to the pasta process, thus improving production efficiencies and color.
Durum planted area, like some other classes of wheat, is declining in the United States. Working with producers and suppliers proactively is the best way to assure ample supply to the market. Desert Durum® can be produced and delivered “identity preserved” to domestic and export markets, which allows customers to purchase grain of varieties possessing quality traits specific to their needs. Annual production requirements can be pre-contracted with grain merchandisers ahead of the fall-winter planting season for harvest in late May-early July. Varietal identity is maintained by experienced growers planting certified seed and merchandisers who store and ship according to customers’ preferred delivery schedules.
Northern durum is competitively sourced by U.S. pasta producers in the Midwest and northern states. Export customers most be proactive when working with suppliers to obtain the best quality available in the market such as HAD.
U.S. Wheat Advantages
As we highlight each specific 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 consistency of 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 market through unique quality characteristics that make a variety of baked goods and noodles. Further, blending flours from one or more types of wheat is an important component for customers to understand as part of optimizing flour performance at minimal cost.
Each region, country and culture have wheat-based food products that are uniquely their own. With six unique classes of wheat, the United States has the right wheat class to deliver the optimal quality and value for every variety of product on the market.
Read more about other U.S. wheat classes in this series.