Quality: great; protein: it depends

It’s important to know wheat protein levels and watch for price spreads to develop

If you have high protein, big yields and the best quality, your wheat should be sitting pretty in this winter’s wheat market.

But almost nobody harvested that, so farmers are now determining the best way to market their particular combination of quality, volume and protein.

The shortage of rain during the summer in large parts of the spring wheat growing area had many expecting a mostly high protein crop, but it is turning out to be more variable.

“It’s going to be an interesting year for spring wheat,” said Mike Krueger of the Money Farm in Fargo, North Dakota.

Here are the interesting factors:

  • high protein/low yields in drought-ravaged parts of western North Dakota, Montana, southwestern Saskatchewan and southern Alberta
  • high yields/low protein in several regions, particularly the Red River Valley area of Manitoba and North Dakota
  • high quality almost everywhere

“It’s way above normal protein,” said Krueger about the western North Dakota crop.

The same appears to apply to Alberta spring wheat crops, according to Canadian Grain Commission grain quality manager Daryl Beswitherick, who has so far received about 4,000 grain samples, which is about half of what he eventually expects to see. Alberta spring wheat protein levels average 13.8 percent so far this year, up from 13.3 last year.

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The situation is reversed in Saskatchewan and Manitoba with Saskatchewan protein levels plunging to 12.8 percent this year from 13.5 percent last year, while Manitoba fell to 13.2 percent from 13.9 percent last year.

However, eastern farmers will probably be happy because some of their yields are sky-high, and most is grading number one.

“The yields are just fantastic,” said Beswitherick.

“It’s the best ever. (In some areas) 13.2 (percent protein) with 70 to 80 bushels an acre (in the Red River Valley). I think the guys will take that.”

Across the Prairies, 88 percent of red spring wheat is grading number one, and the total increases to 97 percent when No. 2 grades are added.

Durum quality is also good with 72 percent grading No. 1 and 16 percent No. 2, but its protein is above average, benefitting from the drought that hit its growing area.

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The 10-year average for durum protein is 13 percent, but this year it ranges from 13.5 percent for No. 1 to 16.3 percent for No. 5.

That latter number comes from extreme drought stress, in which the plant produces protein but can’t supply much else into the seed.

“They’re shrunken,” said Beswitherick about the drought-damaged kernels.

Farmers who have a good sense of what kind of a wheat crop they will be marketing can now start watching the protein spreads to see what the market wants and when.

“I thought we’d see a premium on low-protein wheat because so much would be high-protein, but with your (Canadian) crop coming in like this, I’m not so sure that’s going to happen,” said Krueger.

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  • ed

    Yes indeed. When the CWB was still working hard on behalf of the Western Canadian farmers the price spread from 11% protein to 15.5% protein at times was over $2.50/bushel. That was up to $25,000 of additional revenue on a quarter section of high yielding, high protein RSW. The net price was also $12.64/ bushel that particular year at the farm gate, so an additional $65,000/quarter as compared to now. Not bad guys. Now that spread may be only 6 -10 cents per bushel but under the same set of circumstances you could receive up to an additional $1000 In revenue so it could give you a small portion of the extra demurage at port that is being deducted off your wheat at the farm gate now, up to 2-3% of the total net price drop that has occurred at the farm gate, a portion of the increased handling charges being administered by the big grain companies or it could at least pay some of the fuel to pound your truck down the road a little farther in search of those extra pennies. The protein premium off of 100 quarters of wheat now as compared to previously 4 quarters of wheat then, “might” buy you a flex header for your combine to do your beans with that you have been forced into growing so that you can attempt to find and extract some of that lost revenue back on your farm as well. It is all good however as farmers like to go along to get along and not cause any trouble. There is no sense really Harpering on about it as that is deemed as complaining, going on like a broken record, talking fondly about a relative that has passed on, etc. So now, how can we get down to business and create some more positive change to make it even worse. That will be a hard act to follow, but it is sure that some one will have some suggestions and it is even more likely that farmers will be all for it, or politely quiet about it at least.