By MATTHEW WEAVER
The number of Pacific Northwest acres planted to club wheat will remain steady despite the disappearance of a price premium farmers received in past years, a trade organization's representatives say.
Fluctuating supplies of club wheat created price premiums ranging from a few cents to more than 30 cents a bushel higher than soft white wheat in the past. But for the last 18 months club wheat supplies have remained steady so its price has tracked soft white winter wheat prices.
A Washington Grain Commission member said he expects that trend to continue.
"As long as growers are able to get white wheat value out of it, it makes sense for them to grow it," agreed Ty Jessup, industry representative on the commission.
Club wheat is a subclass of soft white wheat. The head is more compact than normal classes of wheat, giving it a clubbed appearance. Club wheat varieties are generally more resistant to stripe rust, commission CEO Glen Squires said, so growers have had to use less fungicide. Club yields are comparable to those of soft white wheat, and it fares well in dry zones and has good winter hardiness.
Club wheat is primarily grown in the Pacific Northwest and blended with soft white wheat to make western white wheat for customers in Japan and Taiwan. Western white wheat is a blend of 80 percent soft white wheat and 20 percent club wheat.
It is used in products such as sponge cake and crackers. Club wheat has a weaker gluten, which customers prefer in those products, Squires said.
Jessup said exporters prefer to buy club wheat and blend it with the soft white winter wheat themselves, rather than have it blended in country elevators.
Club wheat typically accounts for 10-12 percent of the total wheat acreage in the region, with Washington producing about 80-85 percent of the total club wheat. Last year, roughly 279,000 acres of club wheat were planted in the Pacific Northwest.
Squires does not expect a large change in acreage this fall.
However, if club wheat acreage increases, it could depress prices, Jessup said.
"There's that fine line," he said. "I think we're probably pushing close to the maximum amount of club wheat the industry can handle."