Quality: great; protein: it depends

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.

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.

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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