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Weather is key to bread wheat hopes

By Mike Stones , 25-Aug-2008

Britain’s weather this week will determine not just the quantity and quality of the 2008 wheat harvest but also domestic supplies for sale in 2010, warns the National Farmers Union.

This is the latest British wheat harvest in 10 years,” NFU vice president Paul Temple told BakeryAndSnacks.com. “We need good weather (this week) to assure milling wheat quality – particularly Hagbury (Falling Number) scores.”

But not just this year’s milling wheat harvest is vulnerable to the continuous wet weather. If the wet weather continues, high drying and seed costs deter growers from ordering more milling wheat varieties to sow next month for harvest in 2009 and possible sale in 2010, he explained.

The UK flour and milling industry uses more than 5.6m tonnes of wheat each year and is the largest single buyer of domestic wheat, according to the National Association of British and Irish Millers (NABIM). UK bread-making wheats now account for more than 80 per cent of the industry’s supply – more than double the proportion used in the 1970s.

But Temple dismissed suggestions that Britain’s wash-out summer would lead to a short-term hike in bread prices as “scare-mongering”. Imported milling wheat could offset temporary shortfalls in domestic supplies, he said.

Support for his view came from the UK Federation of Bakers. A spokesman acknowledged that wet weather had significantly delayed the country’s milling wheat harvest but denied that key quality characteristics had been damaged so far.

It’s too early to tell whether the wet weather will reduce quality,” said the spokesman. But much of the national milling wheat crop is ripe, he added. “It could be getting to the point where we do get worried.”

Meanwhile, one of the world’s leading global warming scientists, Sir John Horton told the BBC last week that Britain’s wet summer revealed how humanity is changing the weather. “There’s an increasing intensity of the water cycle. We have been seeing more floods in the UK and we are going to get more of these (in the years ahead),” he said.

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