Wheat crop review: Drought leads to low volume, quality weakened, advises LCI

Wheat crop review: Drought leads to low volume, quality weakened, advises LCI

10 Sep 2018 --- European wheat yields have taken a significant hit this year as crops have been seriously affected by drought which has led to lower than usual volumes. According to a market review of the wheat crop from Limagrain Céréales Ingrédients (LCI), an international cooperative group created and directed by French farmers, quality of wheat is also impacted, while the price is being pushed down by Russian exporters flooding the market with the crop because they fear the Government is on the verge of enforcing an embargo which will stunt Russian supply in Europe.

Russian wheat exports are anticipating restrictions on wheat exportations from early 2019 and so they are advancing their crops in the European market now, which is causing somewhat of a glut that has an impact on prices.

LCI statistics show that there was a price dip during July and early August. 

And, if there is indeed an embargo in the new year, prices will likely rise because of the lack of availability from the Black Sea market. 

“Russia is a large wheat producer and this year it is very important to consider the Black Sea area,” says Claude Gagnol, IP raw materials organization manager for LCI & regional presidents of ANIMF, the French millers association, (Association Nationale de la Meunerie Française), while giving an overview of the wheat crop grown in the Northern hemisphere.

“Russia is facing very big problems this year because they lost 20 percent of the crop because of the drought. We have observed a dip in terms of price level during July and early August. This is not a significant trend, it is due to the fact that the Russian exporters have put a lot of volume in the market, much more than they were selling last year, for instance.”

“This situation is due to some uncertainty from the Russian Government which is expected to put in force some restrictions for wheat exports as from early next year. It’s still a pending decision, but it could happen and in any case, the availability for exportation from Russia is about 25 million tons when last year it was around 39 million tons.”

“The Russian territory has already exported 9 million tons over the 25 million tons, so they are very much advanced in terms of exportation of the available wheat. And, early next year in January, we could observe some new price increase because of the lack of availability from the Black Sea market. And, the European territory will not be in a position to compensate for the lack of availability from the Black Sea area – so we have to be careful about this possibility.”

If the crop is not good in the Northern hemisphere, then there is no chance to change the situation with the possibility to source from somewhere in the southern hemisphere. This year, for instance, in Australia the crop is expected to be quite poor, according to the LCI review. 

Wheat production review
There is a decrease in world wheat production which is around 716 million tons this season, a drop of around 42 million compared to last year. Meanwhile, consumption remains steady. 

This is the first year, after five years, that there is a drop in production, says Gagnol.

“It’s a significant drop because we have lost around 40 million tons while consumption is remaining steady.”

Concerning European soft wheat production, Gagnol explains, that there will be around 11 million tons carried over which means the this can go towards completing the lack of production in Europe. 

There will likely be a drop in the use of wheat for the animal feed sector which can switch to using cheaper corn instead. 

“When we look at the French situation; this crop is not a good one, but it’s not a bad one. It is matching the average level of the last five years. But we have to consider that within these five years, there was one very bad year in 2016 when we had only 27 million tons of wheat when the average is about 36 million tons, so the quality in France is up and down,” Gagnol says. 

“We have more difficulties regarding the quality of the wheat in the southwest of France because of the mycotoxin presence.”

What’s next?
Considering some factors which could lead to a price dip, Gagnol mentions the trade tensions between China and the US. 

“Considering this commercial issue between China and the US, my feeling is that when it comes to making business, every time the US finds a solution to close the issue in a proper way.”

“We have to consider the newly expected decrease of the raw production. For example, in Australia, although we don’t know exactly what the total volumes it will be harvesting, we are expecting low quantities from the harvest and we will know more in a few weeks.” 

“We have to look at the Black Sea market issues very seriously, especially when it comes to putting in place some export restrictions.”

“We are waiting for the corn crops in Europe and US which is expected to be good in the US and very good in Ukraine but we have very bad expectations from Europe because of the drought which is affecting the yield of the corn and we could see some very poor yields in France as well.”

Flour quality 
The “strength” of flour is a balance among three physical dough characteristics: extensibility, elasticity and tenacity. 

Extensibility is the stretching property of the dough which is an essential quality as dough with good extensibility is easy to stretch. Elasticity is the property of the dough to return to its initial position after being stretched. Dough that noticeably springs back after being stretched is judged as too elastic, while tenacity is the property of the dough to resist, more or less, a stretching action.

Sophie Chapron, R&D Manager for Limagrain Céréales Ingrédients, also spoke about a drop in flour quality of the new crop, which will have an impact on bread making. 

“This year there is an increase of the specific weight which relates to the size of the grain and especially to the milling yield. Last year in France, there was very low specific weight and now in this crop, we are now seeing a quite good level of specific weight,” she says. 

“We can say that the hydration is okay, at a minimum it’s at the same level as last year. Something very different from the last crop is the rapid dough development. We will see some very rapid dough development. Last year there were some difficulties, but that is not the case for this new crop.”

“The dough is very low in elasticity and has very high extensibility. It’s really something we have to face this year. And the choice of the variety will be very important to maintain a good level of elasticity to be able to make industrial products and good volumes.”

“We notice a lack of tolerance and a lack of volume so we can really say that this year the strengths of the flour will be decreasing and we have to face the specific characteristic of the dough and the final product.”

“There is also a decrease of the protein content in general compared to last year.”

LIC’s recommendations include;
- Diminution of the kneading time, adjustment of the shaping step
- Increase of the high proteins wheat content in the raw wheat blend (to have more tenacity)
- Addition of ascorbic acid
- Diminution of extension agents for tolerance

By Gaynor Selby

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