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article imageFrance forced to import wheat because of poor quality of harvest

By Karen Graham     Aug 21, 2014 in Environment
France is the European Union's top wheat grower and exporter. But because of an unusually wet summer, France will be forced to buy Lithuanian and British milling wheat to mix with its poor quality crop to meet existing contracts.
According to Reuters, this is only the second time in the past 13 years that France has imported large amounts of wheat from Lithuania. France usually has the top market share on the world market for exports of wheat.
During the 2010-2011 growing season, France had problems with quality of their wheat crop. Then, they imported a total of 22,600 tons from Britain. That amount was far less than the 27,500 tons of high-protein wheat being unloaded at the Port of Rouen on Thursday, according to what port sources told Reuters.
In addition, a shipment of British milling wheat of 3,000 tons reached Dunkirk earlier this week, while a second shipment of 4,400 tons reached Rouen on Thursday. Britain has had a fairly good quality wheat harvest this season, and has been a trade partner with France for a long time, but usually supplying the lower quality animal feed market.
July will go down as the wettest month ever recorded in many parts of France, particularly in the east and south of the country. Rain averages in these regions were two to three times the normal for this time of year. In the Basque country in the southwest, instead of the normal dry, parched look seen in summer, it was as green as the fields of Normandy.
France is well known for the high quality of its milling wheat, with key markets in North Africa, including Algeria, the world's fourth largest importer of wheat. While these countries are expected to look beyond France for future imports, France's contracts are being met this year with the addition of the higher quality milling wheat they have imported.
This year, France will be producing more wheat for animal feed, which prompted a German trader to comment, “The French are also likely to be aggressive sellers of feed wheat which could be offered in the Arabian and Asian markets as a competitor to corn." And because the crop this year doesn't meet the high quality flour-making Hagberg standards of its traditional markets, they will have to sell more within the EU bloc rather than on the world market.
This will lead to a small economic boon to Britain, with traders estimating exports of 0.5 million tons this year to Algeria. "I wouldn't rule out a record year of exports to Algeria," said Jack Watts, senior analyst at Britain's Home-Grown Cereals Authority.
Hagberg Falling Numbers standard
The high quality standards required by many countries is based on the Hagberg Falling Numbers method, an accepted international method for determining sprout damage. The Falling Numbers test can detect weather damaged wheat or rye, which is disasterous to bread-making, at the silo intake within minutes.
Since the early 1960s, the Hagberg Falling Number method has become a world standard used by grain and flour milling industries to measure alpha-amylase activity in wheat, rye and barley, including products made with these grains. The test is quite simple, really.
Today, the operation is automated, but when the test first came out, it involved grinding the grain into a powder, adding it to a test tube, adding distilled water and putting the test tube, all the while stirring, into a boiling water bath. As the solution in the test tube thickens, becoming more gelatinous, the alpha-amylase enzyme starts breaking down the starch into glucose and maltose. This action is directly proportional to the amount of alpha-amylase activity, and means the higher the activity, the lower the viscosity.
This action begins to reduce the viscosity of the mixture. Now this is where the test becomes critical. After 60 seconds of stirring, The operator drops the stirrer from the top of the test tube, and records the length of time it takes for the stirrer to reach the bottom of the tube. This means that the time it takes for the rod to drop to the bottom is determined by the viscosity of the mixture. Hence, Falling Number.
More about France, adverse weather, milling wheat, Animal feed, high quality
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