It has certainly been a newsworthy couple of months in wheat markets, with prices reaching record levels in September.
The markets have also been characterised by volatility, especially in futures markets depending on weather reports and the activities of investment funds. We can expect more of the same in coming weeks. However, it is now in some senses academic - with growers having sold an estimated 80% of their wheat, high prices are locked into the system.
Meanwhile, there are concerns about some aspects of the quality of this year’s UK crop. Certainly there is more variability in grain specific weight and lower Hagberg falling numbers than last year, but these are relatively minor issues. Of greater concern is the level of protein, which appears to be lower than last year, and more importantly its quality. Millers and bakers have been working hard to overcome the resulting difficulties in managing the transition from old crop to new. However, it is not always simple and costly grist adjustments have been required in some cases.
At this stage, we do not know why this quality issue has arisen. The popular view is that it is linked to the extreme conditions experienced this year with drought in April and May followed by a miserable summer. Perhaps this affected the ability of growing plants to capture nitrogen and lay down quality protein.
In summary, it is a more complicated crop than we have recently experienced in terms of quality, availability and price.