By Brad Erker – Executive Director, Colorado Wheat
I remember looking at my first field of hard white winter (HWW) wheat many years ago, it was probably about 1994. I honestly can’t remember the variety, but I do remember thinking “this wheat doesn’t look too happy here in Colorado.” A lot has changed since then. We now have some really great HWW varieties being planted here, many times topping the CSU Variety Trials, and the CWRF/Ardent Mills UltraGrain Premium Program in place to pay premiums on certain varieties. But we still don’t have a large percentage of the crop being planted to HWW.
Kansas has the same issue. Despite actively breeding for HWW varieties out of their Hays breeding program for a couple of decades, and some really great varieties adapted for Kansas, HWW is still fairly low in total acreage. Nigeria is the main buyer for US exports of HWW, but when a boat can’t be lined up for sale to Nigeria, HWW sometime gets discounted by country elevators against hard red winter (HRW). That doesn’t do much to help reach a critical mass on HWW production, which is what many of our export customers tell us they want more of.
So what can we do about it? One idea we’ve been working on in the Hard White Wheat Committee of US Wheat Associates is to increase the allowable percentage of HWW in HRW (say that five times fast). To this end, US Wheat asked the Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) to open up the grain standards last spring. On April 20, 2021, USDA/AMS opened the Federal Register for US Standards for Wheat. Since then, we’ve been holding meetings within US Wheat member states to gather feedback from wheat producers and grain handlers regarding proposed revisions to the grain standards. This discussion focused on ways to improve the marketability of Hard White wheat.
Hard White Wheat was recognized as an official wheat class over 30 years ago. Hard White is a premium wheat class that can effectively compete with Russian and Ukrainian wheats that have eroded U.S. traditional markets in Africa and Southeast Asia. Hard White wheat has a competitive advantage to HRW because it offers the overseas customer higher flour milling extraction rates and improved protein functionality.
However, it continues to struggle to increase production to achieve critical mass and suffers from illiquid markets. U.S. wheat producers are harmed by these illiquid markets when country elevators discount this wheat class. When the US Wheat Board of Directors met in Nashville, Tennessee, on July 1, 2021, they passed the following motion: U.S. Wheat Associates requests FGIS to evaluate and consider the following changes to U.S. Grain Standards to better facilitate the marketing of Hard White Wheat:
1) Differentiate between Hard White Spring Wheat and Hard White Winter Wheat.
2) Create a new Hard Winter Wheat class with subclasses of Hard White Winter Wheat and Hard Red Winter Wheat.
3) Increase the allowable Wheat of Other Classes of Hard White Winter Wheat in Hard Red Winter Wheat to 25%.
These proposed changes would assist growers by better reflecting the true attributes and functionality of the HWW class as an improver to HRW. This grade change would also add liquidity to the Hard White market by allowing a higher percentage of Hard White Winter to be blended into Hard Red Winter when there is no immediate buyer. If country elevators are allowed to blend these two functionally similar winter wheats, growers will no longer face discounts at the first point of sale, sending a market signal to increase production. Higher production will enable this wheat class to reach and maintain a viable critical mass needed to sustain exports.
What are the next steps? If FGIS decides to open up comments on the US Wheat proposal, then a comment period will be created that will allow the entire value chain – farmers, wheat organizations, grain elevators, foreign importers, and others – to weigh in on the subject. The Colorado Wheat Administrative Committee will be watching this closely and engaging in the process to advocate for the best interests of Colorado wheat farmers. Feel free to reach out to myself or your local CWAC Board representative if you have opinions or questions about this HWW issue.