This year will likely be the hottest on record, according to the World Meteorological Organisation.
Europe is normally a regular exporter of wheat, but three massive biofuel plants have created an extra 2mt of demand for wheat, preferably high starch soft milling types that maximise ethanol yield, Limagrain's UK director of sales and New Zealand coordinator, Alastair Moore (pictured), explained.
"We're seeing quite a drive to the soft wheat end and a lot of the new varieties recommended [in the UK] were in that category."
The booming biofuel demand and an appalling harvest have tipped the UK to be a net importer of wheat for the first time in decades. Prices ex-farm have spiked to ¬£230/t (NZ$450/t) spot, or ¬£235/t for February movement as a result.
"And that's just for feed. You've got milling premiums being paid on top of that," he told the PGW field day.
However, milling quality wheat is hard to come by and specific weights, even for feed are a problem. "A lot of wheat is 65-68kg/hl. Some is down to 53kg/hl."
The rest of the European Union and exporters further east such as Ukraine don't have a lot of supply either, he says.
As for next year's crop, only 50% of the UK's anticipated winter (ie autumn sown) wheat area has been sown and of that, about 30% probably won't make it because of the wet autumn.
"It's an interesting scenario and probably one none of us have seen in the past."
UK plantings are normally nearly all autumn-sown so spring seed looks like being in short supply. Limagrain is importing from the likes of Denmark and Poland to meet the shortfall. "A lot of these countries have a bigger spring programme."
Whether there might be an opportunity for New Zealand to meet some of the demand, Moore didn't say.
Wheats to watch
SPEAKING BEFORE Moore (see main story) PGW's Kyle Gardyne outlined some of the wheats in the firm's South Canterbury cultivar evaluation trial, such as potential new biscuit wheat, KWW47. "It's got a big leaf and is 8-10% higher yielding than Orator."
Sister variety KWW45 also shows promise as a biscuit maker. "It's got good disease resistance but not quite the yield of [KWW]47."
Both have two years of CPT1 data behind them, outyielding Claire by 6-8% in Canterbury.
In the feed wheats, KWW46 "is the most exciting feed wheat in a while," says Gardyne, it having topped FAR's trials for two years in succession. However, there won't quite be enough seed to launch it commercially this autumn.
WHEAT WASN'T the only crop to suffer in the UK's soggy summer, Moore said: national potato yield is forecast back from 6mt to 4.5mt, and 25% of that is still stuck in sodden paddocks.
"And they don't know how what's out of the ground is going to store either."