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Hard White Wheat Profile

Revised April 2012 by Gary Brester, professor, Department of Agricultural Economics, Montana State University, gbrester@montana.edu

By Michael Boland and Mykel Taylor, Kansas State University.

 

Overview

Unlike some countries such as Australia, the United States produces limited amounts of white wheat.  Annual production of white wheat has ranged between 220 and 350 million bushels since the 1990s.  In 2011, the United States produced 314 million bushels of white wheat.  Most white wheat is either soft winter or soft spring varieties produced primarily in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.  Historically, about two-thirds of U.S. white wheat production is exported.

The white wheat classification encompasses many varieties including hard white spring, soft white spring, soft white winter, and more recently, hard white winter wheat.  U.S. white wheat production is dominated by soft white winter (244 million bushels in 2011) followed by soft white spring (45.6 million bushels), hard white spring (11.9 million bushels), and hard white winter (12.4 million bushels).

Production

Australia has long been the world leader in the production of hard white wheat.  Hard white wheat is a close substitute for hard red wheat as both have similar intrinsic characteristics. While both classes are used in bread making because of their high protein levels (12-14%), the main difference is the color of their respective kernel coats.  This color difference impacts the use of each wheat class in food products such as Asian noodles and steam breads.  In addition, hard white wheat does not have tannins found in red wheat bran that cause a slightly bitter flavor in whole-wheat foods.  Some domestic millers prefer hard white wheat because of the functionality of specific varieties.  Domestic millers usually mill wheat to meet flour ash or mineral content specifications.  Several hard white wheat varieties allow for higher extraction rates when millers try to meet ash content specifications.  Finally, hard white wheat also has a sweeter taste in bread products.

The development of hard white winter wheat varieties in the United States is a relatively recent activity that has only been commercialized since the late 1990s.  This category of wheat requires identity preservation from red and soft wheat varieties.  Most early genetic research presupposed that U.S. hard white winter wheat would provide export opportunities to countries that already import such varieties from other producers such as Australia.  In addition, domestic demand was expected to grow because of its use in whole wheat products and improved milling extraction rates.  However, the costs of segregation has been an impediment to wide spread adoption.  In addition, initial varieties of hard white winter wheat yields were somewhat lower than hard red winter wheat.  However, over a dozen varieties have been developed with many having yields comparable to hard red winter wheat.

Hard white winter wheat also faces more problems with pre-harvest sprouting than hard red winter wheat varieties.  Sprouting is usually caused by late season rain.  Thus, pre-harvest sprouting is less of a problem in the drier climates of western Kansas, western Oklahoma, and eastern Colorado.

Production data on hard white winter wheat has been collected over the past decade.  In 2005, the U.S. produced 25.3 million bushels of hard white winter wheat.  Production levels declined to 22.7 million bushels in 2008.  In 2011, production declined further to 12.4 million bushels.

Marketing

The advantages of white wheat to millers and consumers include higher extraction rates and a sweeter taste in whole-wheat products.  The drawbacks are a product of production issues including lower yields, sprout damage, and identity-preservation.  Even with the advantages to millers and consumers, many producers do not believe that hard white wheat premiums exceed these additional costs.  All of these issues have contributed to the problems that occur with the introduction of new technologies and food products.  That is, food processors are hesitant to develop new products that are dependent upon uncertain supplies.  And, producers are hesitant to produce crops that face uncertain demands.

The promise of expanded foreign markets and better milling and baking qualities of white wheat has resulted in several contracting programs in various states including Colorado, Idaho, Kansas, Montana, Nebraska, and Oklahoma.  Some programs focus on establishing a critical mass of production for export markets.  Others are designed to provide a certain supply of wheat for specific wheat-based products.  In either case, premiums have been an integral part of contract programs.  Although premiums vary greatly, the base premium is typically $0.10/bushel over hard red winter wheat prices.

Contract requirements also vary among programs.  Most contracts require certified seed to be planted. Some companies require the use of their own genetics.  In most cases, varieties have unique characteristics that make them well-suited for particular end uses.  Other requirements include selling all grain produced under contract to the contractor and a prohibition on planting saved seed.  This practice is intended to protect the genetic purity of the crop.

Sources

Hard White Winter Wheat and Gold Medal Flour®, Review of Agricultural Economics.
National Association of Wheat Growers
Wheat Marketing Center, Portland, Oregon.
Wheat Outlook, Economic Research Service (ERS), USDA.
Wheat Year in Review, ERS, USDA.
 

Links checked November 2013.

 

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