Hovis is confident that long-term supplies of the British red wheat it plans to use in its bread will prove reliable, despite the variety’s reputation for low yields and susceptibility to disease when grown in the UK.
The company scored a PR coup last week revealing that all its products would be made with flour from 100% British-grown wheat from January. The announcement overshadowed Warburtons’ plans to launch two all-British loaves in March.
Over 600 British farms are supplying Hovis with high-protein AC Barrie red wheat, which is normally grown in Canada. The variety was long thought by farmers to be unsuitable for the UK because of its susceptibility to mildew and yellow rust, as well as low yields compared to British breeds.
But Hovis said five years’ of trials showed that it was possible to grow the variety successfully, even during the poor harvest of 2008. "We saw in that damp year that red wheat was actually more resilient than standard UK breadmaking wheat and we got a better yield from the red wheat trials," said marketing director Jon Goldstone.
"Because we tested it extensively, we’re confident that, even in a bad year, we’ll get a very good crop. Certainly in the short term we are well covered. We don’t have any plans to use anything other than British red wheat."
Gary Sharkey, Rank Hovis procurement director, added: "Like any crop, red wheat has weaknesses with regards to certain diseases, but these can be overcome with the right agronomical approach."
Farmers are paid a premium of £135/tonne over feed wheat for red wheat, which can be sown from October to April. According to arable merchant Premium Crops, which has worked on the project, 97% of growers have achieved full specification.