Pressure on the food supply chain to reduce its carbon footprint is growing, but what does this mean for milling wheat? Greenhouse gas emissions from milling wheat are some 15% higher than for feed wheat and there is pressure building from both regulators and customers to reduce the crop’s environmental impact.
Joe Brennan, senior technical adviser for Flour Millers UK, (formerly nabim), said: “Carbon footprinting hasn’t really kicked off yet, but the ball is rolling.
As we enter a greener market there will be customers wanting to differentiate themselves for the consumer [in this way].”
Linked into the debate are issues around the cost and availability of domestic, high protein wheat because breeders are struggling to marry up the protein quality that millers are looking for in Group 1 varieties, with yield traits.
“In 2015 we saw a boom in high yielding Group 1s.
But KWS Zyatt was the last high yielding bread variety to join the list and we haven’t had any for a number of years,” Mr Brennan said.
“From 2020, the area of Group 1s grown declined which is no surprise given newer varieties [in other groups] with better agronomic packages are finding their way into the market place.”
So what is stopping millers accepting lower proteins? “A percentage of 12.5 is a more attractive destination for growers to sell to.
But one of the issues is with the typical protein quality of UK wheat; less than 13% protein will not give you the consistent strength needed for breadmaking flours.
Disconnect “Some businesses will look to top up their protein with high protein imported wheat from North America and Canada.
However, these are expensive and not an option for UK-only flour.
Plus, if we’re going to have a conversation about carbon footprinting, there may be a disconnect between using less N to cut carbon and then importing wheat.”
Another option is adding gluten to bump up the protein, but this does not quite replicate the functionality of naturally occurring wheat protein and can dull the colour of the bread crumb.
Significant pressure for food processors to reduce salt, which modifies gluten and increases strength, is also adding to the challenge.
“As salt levels are pushed lower and lower, protein is being pushed up to compensate,” he added.
While specification reductions may not yet be on the horizon, there are ways the industry can continue to address emissions, said Mr Brennan.
“We need to improve our understanding of genes underpinning protein functionality, identify those traits and breed them into varieties.
We also need to improve NUE and our understanding of best timing and rates for N applications in terms of bread making quality.
Things like late foliar N sprays currently have a divergence of opinions on how useful they are.”