Wheat Spokesman Reports
by Scott Yates, Staff Writer
SPOKANE -- The idea of using a 50 percent blend of soft and hard wheat to make bread products may sound far-fetched, but a number of countries in the Southern Hemisphere do just that.
Tom Mick, chief executive officer of the Washington Wheat Commission, said cost is the reason countries like Ecuador, Columbia, Peru and Chile are mixing the very different wheat classes.
"They are very much price buyers. Soft white is competitive. Mills use it," he said, adding, "Very few mills use a single class of wheat anymore."
Mick, who just returned from a trip to the four countries, his second visit below the equator in the last year, said soft white has an opportunity to replace soft red in certain regions because of concern over insect fragments and vomotoxin. Soft white also has higher extraction rates and lower moisture.
An Ecuadorian miller who received a 20-ton sample of wheat from the Washington Wheat Commission in April 2005 liked what he saw, and a 13,000-ton shipment of soft white is due to arrive there in mid-June.
CHILE USES MOST
The percentage of soft white used in bread depends on the country. Chile, which represents itself as the second-largest bread consumer in the world, uses the most, with 50 percent soft wheat. Mick said products run the gamut from great to terrible.
That's because hard red or hard white wheat classes are associated with the stronger gluten characteristics found in bread. Soft wheat, including soft red, are associated with cookies, cakes and crackers.
Chilean bakers don't appear to mind. Soft white wheat imports into the country are up substantially, to 200,000 tons.
Mick said Peru will be the biggest challenge. Because the population is so poor, one miller told Mick that if the price of bread goes up, consumers simply switch to another commodity like corn.
Although it is cheaper to service some of the South and Central American countries out of the Gulf, many locations can be more economically serviced from the Northwest. And at least a couple of millers during Mick's trip indicated concerns over the future of the Panama Canal. Because of poor maintenance there exists the possibility of breakdowns, they said, which would make it wise to have a second source of imports.
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