Position of UK Flour Millers
02 February 2023
Contrary to the view held by some farmers, the milling industry’s use of imported wheat is not undercutting UK growers. This is outlined in a new position statement by UK Flour Millers setting out why mills buy imported wheat and how it is assured (available to dowload at the bottom of this page).
In a typical year, over 80% of the wheat used by UK millers is homegrown and will be assured under either Red Tractor Combinable Crops or the Scottish Quality Crops (SQC) Scheme. This remains a historically high level of homegrown usage, as new baking techniques and the breeding of higher protein wheats suited to UK farms has flipped miller demand away from imported breadmaking options.
Now imported wheats typically make up only 15% of UK miller demand. These imported high protein options provide exceptionally strong gluten to complement homegrown protein, or offer a high level of protein to smooth out variation in UK wheat quality and substitute for domestic wheat in seasons where the supply is poor. Of this 15%, the majority comes from Canada (typically 10%), with approximately 5% from Germany and a small proportion from France (<1%). Red Tractor and SQC standards are robust and so it is not surprising that assured farmers are keen to understand whether similar requirements apply in the imported countries of origin.
Some origins do have equivalent standards, with some even going further than the Red Tractor scheme, for example by having unannounced audits and much harsher penalties for non-compliance. However, some are not equivalent, and in these cases the seller must provide extensive food safety and quality test results for every 200 tonne batch of wheat, a significant cost borne by the seller.
UK Flour Millers technical manager, Joe Brennan, said “the Red Tractor crops scheme is well-understood and has excellent compliance rates. Unlike in other countries, the scheme is developed with significant farmer input, ensuring it reflects real farm practice.”
Joe added “If a farmer wishes to sell unassured grain to a UK flour mill they would need to provide agrochemical and mycotoxin test results for at least every 200 tonne of grain drawn from the same bulk, at their own expense. This is clearly a less efficient means of providing assurance and it’s no wonder that Red Tractor is well supported by processors.”
“Red Tractor provides assurance but it’s also a story of supply chain cooperation and market access. All UK flour milling businesses require Red Tractor or SQC crops assurance. So, we don’t see a range of different schemes applied by different milling businesses in order for farmers to supply. Millers speak from experience when they say the Red Tractor scheme is efficient and straightforward. It is a stark contrast to the myriad schemes millers must comply with as food businesses, in many cases to supply just one business with flour.”
“Competing schemes can of course be set up, but from the milling industry perspective the standards within a new scheme must be at least as stringent as those within Red Tractor.”