White wheat in high demand for breakfast cereal

WHILE MEETING QUALITY REQUIREMENTS CAN BE CHALLENGING, GROWERS OF WHITE WHEAT FIND PREMIUM MAKES IT WORTH THEIR WHILE

according to gord Anderson, success with growing white wheat is all about thinking differently. “It requires a different outlook because normally you’re trying to get wheat off when it’s dry,” he says. “With white wheat, you want to get it off the field before sprouting and the moisture levels can be quite high.”

Gord, his brother John and son Richard farm near Thamesville. “We started about 30 years ago growing red as well, but we didn’t get any higher yields with red, so we went with all white,” says Anderson. “Growing one type of wheat also means you don’t have contamination from other wheat types in the equipment.” Last year, the Andersons planted 157 acres of white wheat in rotation, but Anderson says it’s usually between 250 and 300 acres of their total farm acreage of slightly over 1,000 acres.

an attractive market
While soft red winter wheat is coveted for baked goods, soft white winter wheat is currently in very high demand for breakfast cereals, says Darcy Oliphant, merchandising manager at Thompsons Limited, an agriculture input and service provider. “The ‘whole grains’ concept in cereals has been helping boost the market for wheat of all kinds,” Oliphant observes. “White is preferred for cereal because it lacks the bitterness of soft red, but white is also used to make flour for baked goods.” For example, the use of whole grains is also being touted in products such as Dempsters ‘Smart 16’ bread.

In the last few years, white wheat has represented only seven to twelve percent of the total wheat crop in Ontario. “It’s held fairly steady in the recent past,” says Oliphant, who estimates that between 50,000 and 65,000 acres of white wheat are currently grown. “We at Thompsons need a certain amount of acreage to keep up with market demand,” he says, “and we’d ideally like to see the current acreage doubled to be somewhere in the range of 100,000 to 125,000 acres.”

producing for quality
Some producers aren’t crazy about growing white wheat because of its higher susceptibility to Fusarium and sprouting. To help white wheat farmers handle these challenges and convince other producers to grow the crop, Thompsons has a contract program that involves a premium and guidance for fungicide spraying and harvest timing. The program also involves using the certified seed variety Ava, a new variety released by Hyland Seeds in 2009, that can be harvested at higher moisture levels earlier in the season, before sprouting and Fusarium get severe. “All the steps of the 2010 Ava program lessen the possibility of soft white wheat quality problems,” says Oliphant.

In the Ontario Winter Wheat Performance Trials, published by the Ontario Cereal Crop Committee, there is yield and performance data available for eight different soft white wheat varieties from six different companies.

In areas I and II – covering all of Southwestern Ontario – three-year composite yield index scores ranged from 92 to 104, with Ava the highest. In the same area, the three-year cumulative trials show Ava to be moderately resistant to Fusarium; the best rating within the trials. For other diseases, D8006W from Advantage Seed Growers showed a low level of impact from Leaf Rust and Powdery Mildew while Superior, also from Advantage Seed Growers, showed the lowest level of impact from Leaf Septoria in both Areas I and II.

on farm management
In 2009, the Andersons grew 30 acres of Ava (the rest was an older Hyland variety called Ashley) and planted all Ava in 2010. Anderson’s yield for Ava was 135 bushels per acre last year, and with their own seed this year, it was 101. “Partly, I think that’s because I maybe didn’t seed thick enough,” he says. “Maybe Thompsons seed was smaller and gave a higher seeding rate or it was better seed, I’m not sure.” Anderson says they saved about $40 an acre using their own seed.

“You get some sprouting each year, but only once in the past 15 years has it gotten really bad,” notes Anderson. “This year, because it looked like conditions for sprouting were likely, we harvested many loads at a moisture level of 16 to 17 percent, but got no sprouting.” In terms of managing Fusarium, Anderson uses both Headline and Folicure. “Headline keeps the flag leaf clean, which seems to be especially important with white wheat to increase yield,” he notes. “We’ve done test strips and found that it’s increased yield by six to eight bushels per acre. I think it’s variety-specific. As a preventative, we also use Folicure. Skipping extra trips over the field is just not worth the risk, and the premium covers the extra cost.”

While they didn’t sign a contract with Thompsons this year and used their own seed (they already had their seed cleaned and treated before a contract was offered), Andersons may do so this fall. Even though growers with or without contracts can get up to $1.00 more a bushel for white over red, a Thompson’s contract for Ava guarantees $1.00 more and offers free drying up to 18 percent. However, Anderson feels no particular pressure. “Demand is high,” he concludes. “We had the majority of it sold this year before we planted it.” •