Nuisance wheat turns into golden opportunity

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COLUMBUS – A particular soft red wheat variety that is known to grow particularly well in northern Ohio has had a reputation for being a nuisance to millers and bakers alike.

But that was before Nabisco determined that the very qualities that made the variety hard to mill and difficult to deal with could add consistency and economy to its production of cookies and crackers.

And because its properties of the variety give it a premium value to Nabisco, Ohio farmers have planted enough acres this fall to produce at least four million bushels at harvest.

According to Rob Rettig of Napoleon, Ohio, president of the 10-year-old Ohio Wheat Growers Association, the circumstances surrounding the development of Pioneer 24R26 as a premium identity-preserved grain has been nothing less than a golden opportunity for northwest Ohio wheat growers.

Flour characteristics.

The organization started out to look for a short list of seed that millers would prefer to get from growers so that producers could purposely grow wheat to produce flour characteristics, Rettig said.

Although there is no one in the association that makes their living on wheat, he said, in the clay soils of northwest Ohio it is almost necessary to grow wheat as a rotation crop in order to improve soil condition.

Pioneer 24R26 came along several years ago, and seemed to thrive in the particular soil conditions of northwest Ohio and southern Michigan.

Rettig said he originally chose it to plant for its higher yield and standability.

Gummed the mills.

But the high-protein variety with its higher gluten content also succeeded in gumming up milling equipment.

When it stopped one small mill in its tracks, an effort was made to trace the wheat, and then to analyze it. The results led Nabisco to identify it as a particularly desirable product for some uses.

When it was mixed indiscriminately with other soft red wheats with less gluten, bakers found they were getting inconsistent results. They never knew what the gluten content of the flour would actually be.

There was a benefit, therefore, in keeping the variety isolated from other soft red wheats.

But the gluten content also makes it possible for Nabisco to substitute this wheat variety for some hard red wheat that has to be shipped in from the central plains.

Offer a bonus.

Using 24R26 to replace some hard red wheat in the flour mix used for cookies and crackers created enough savings from transportation costs to make it possible to offer a bonus for the identify-preserved grain.

Last summer Nabisco cooperated with the Ohio Wheat Growers Association to segregate 1.5 million bushels to use in milling tests at the Toledo mill.

Now it is ready to offer 20 cents a bushel over market price for the wheat, and is contracting with area elevators to store the wheat separately.

Even if there isn’t enough cooperating elevators, Rettig said, “we’ll find some way of keeping the grain separated.”

But Rettig isn’t satisfied. He doesn’t think the best varieties have been identified.

There is niche market out there for more than one variety, he said, if we could get the millers to get together to identify which varieties they need to yield a more consistent flour that can create more uniform results.

All-purpose variety.

He said he is sure they will eventually be able to identify a wheat that can yield a flour that can work for all products, allowing the bakers to keep their plants running more consistently.

“I know we can do better,” Rettig said. “I think we’ll probably have a better seed to plant by next year.”

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