Hard or soft – know your options


Winter wheat planting season is almost upon us and big decisions need to be made about what wheat to plant. Often, this decision is determined by what wheat is in the bin or what variety is historically grown on the farm. But, this year, some industry members are working hard to encourage farmers to grow hard red winter wheat.
“Parrish & Heimbecker is actively trying to promote planting of hard red winter wheat,” says Steve Kell of P&H. “The market is sending a clear monetary signal that it’s looking for hard red wheat and we want to ensure that farmers are aware of that signal,” he continues.
These market signals can often be missed as soft and hard wheat are traded in different markets. “Many farmers don’t have time to watch all the markets all the time,” says Todd Austin, marketing manager at Grain Farmers of Ontario. “If you typically grow soft wheat, you may not think to check the hard wheat markets and you could easily miss certain price signals,” continues Austin.
Price signals and incentives
Those price signals are currently in play. For 2012, the spread between soft and hard red wheat is one dollar, at the time of publication. “There’s a fairly substantial price different between high protein wheat and low protein wheat,” explains Kell. As hard red wheat has higher protein, price incentives are currently in play.
According to Kell, it’s this difference in the protein that is the real driver of the prices. “Acreage of hard red winter wheat has trailed off a bit but more than that, we’ve seen a trend of a reduction in protein levels in soft red winter,” explains Kell. “Both export and domestic markets want a consistent supply and protein is an important factor in consistency.”
Considerations for the switch
Switching from soft to hard red wheat is not exactly brain surgery, but there are some challenges to consider. “There are concerns about lower yields in hard wheat compared to soft,” says Austin. “But, these concerns are often location specific; some farms may not see a difference at all while other farms may see a marked difference,” he continues.
The other consideration is purchasing seed. “For farmers who grow bin run wheat, there is the added disincentive of purchasing seed to make the switch to hard red wheat,” says Austin. “That’s something that each farm needs to look at on an individual level. This may be the time to get the calculator out and see what works best.”
Beyond pricing, there are some production incentives to making the switch to hard red winter wheat. “Hard wheat is less susceptible to sprouting than soft wheat,” says Kell. “A combination of hard and soft wheat on one farm can help spread out the harvest time period without risking sprouting damage.”
As always, planting decisions should take production needs and market signals into consideration. “Every farmer needs to make these decisions for themselves,” says Austin, “but, make sure you know all your options before you start to plant.”