Washington farmers are expected to plant more acres of spring club wheat next year to take advantage of a nearly $2 a bushel premium for the subclass.
The added acreage is also expected to create a tight supply of the seed.
Club wheat prices average $1.75 higher per bushel than for soft white wheat. Soft white ranges from $5.80 to $5.95 per bushel on the Portland market, while club wheat goes for $7.70 to $7.82 per bushel.
“We had less acreage and production for this crop year,” said Glen Squires, CEO of the Washington Grain Commission.
Some of that reduction was due to less planting of the variety Bruehl, which is susceptible to the falling number starch problem and other factors, Squires said.
Club wheat is a subclass of the soft white wheat primarily grown in the Pacific Northwest. It has a more compact head, giving it a clubbed appearance, and has weak gluten and lower protein levels.
Western white wheat is a blend of soft white wheat and club wheat. Japan purchases a blend of 80% soft white wheat and 20% club. Thailand and Singapore purchase a blend of 90% soft white and 10% club wheat. A company in South Korea purchases straight club wheat as a specialty.
There hasn’t been a premium for club wheat for four years. Demand for Western white wheat has grown each year, Squires said.
The commission worked extensively to get Taiwan back into the club wheat market after two years.
The Philippines used to purchase a lot of Western white, until premiums increased in the 1990s. The commission recently brought a team of millers to the Wheat Marketing Center in Portland to train them on how to use it in their products.
Seed supplies of club wheat varieties J.D. and Melba are tight.
“Three-quarters of what I have available is already committed to growers,” said Ryan Higginbotham, of HighLine Grain Growers. “As it looks right now, I will sell 10 times more spring club seed this coming year than I have every year for the past three.”
Higginbotham cautions that spring club wheats are susceptible to the insect pest Hessian fly. Growers should manage their risks with insecticide seed treatments or foliar insecticide spray, he said.
“Depending on where they’re at, the club may or may not be the best option for them,” he said. “Yes, it’s more valuable currently, but with Hessian fly there is a risk you could lose 5% yield, you could lose 45% yield. Weigh the options.”
Higginbotham recommends that farmers put in an order for spring club wheat as quickly as possible.
Squires expects growers to plant as much as they can. Acreage tends to fluctuate from 100,000-plus acres to more than 270,000 acres. Acreage will increase, he said, but be limited by seed supply.
The commission has told Japanese flour millers that there will be enough club wheat to meet their needs. Japan is the top club wheat buyer, purchasing about 65% of the overall supply when stocks are tight and a smaller percentage when stocks are greater.
When there is no premium, club wheat can be added to soft white cargos at a percentage of 1 to 5%, Squires said.