Senay Simsek

NDSU professor Senay Simsek, Ph.D., bakes bread with a test baker in Malaysia in 2019. Submitted photo.

FERGUS FALLS, Minn. – With all of the challenges in farming, it’s good to be reminded why hard red spring (HRS) wheat is an important crop to grow – and grow well.

The northern states harvested roughly 558 million bushels of HRS in 2019. Of this total, about 48 percent – or 268 million bushels will be exported. Major markets in the last five years include the Philippines, Japan, Taiwan, Korea and Mexico.

U.S. HRS exported to these markets needs to be of high quality, said NDSU professor Senay Simsek, Ph.D., and she acknowledged that can be a difficult request.

During small grains meetings held in Minnesota, Simsek asked producers to consider planting varieties that may not be the easiest to grow, but are what export customers need. Certain practices are also needed for high quality export products.

Customers that purchase HRS for bread need wheat that consistently responds in the same way. To learn more, they study the annual Wheat Quality Evaluation book produced at the Wheat Quality Lab in the Plant Sciences Department at NDSU. Wheat samples are collected at harvest by USDA personnel and shipped to the Wheat Quality Lab in Harris Hall, which is located next to the Northern Crops Institute. Samples are tested and results are published.

“All of this quality information is very important because they pay for quality. These customers are making million-dollar purchase decisions based on the data we generate,” Simsek said. “I know you are growing for bushels, but they are paying the high price for spring wheat because it has high quality for bread baking applications.”

Simsek and others take part in U.S. Wheat Associates trade missions throughout the year. In 2019, Simsek traveled to the Philippines, Indonesia, Malaysia, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, Brazil, Columbia and Peru. She meets with customers, millers and end-users of U.S. wheat to explain the basics of cereal chemistry, and the unique applications of U.S. wheat in products.

Of course, buyers, millers and end-users who travel to the U.S. receive seminars in the Plant Sciences Department and at the Northern Crops Institute to learn more about U.S. wheat quality characteristics.

Currently, HRS wheat cultivars are characterized by high protein content (12-16 percent), excellent milling qualities, and baking performance that make it ideal for blending with other wheat types for a “valued improved” flour product, she said.

When quality HRS is blended with lower protein wheat, the resulting flour has increased gluten protein content and strength. This gives bakers a wider mixing window with consistent dough stability.

In South America, HRS wheat is also blended with durum or hard red winter wheat to improve some textural properties in cooked pasta.

Blending of HRS wheat improves water absorption of low protein wheat, she added.

In recent years, U.S. HRS wheat has exhibited a slightly declining trend in water absorption compared to Canada.

“Water absorption in wheat flour is an important parameter for the process of precise breadmaking,” she said. The water content in HRS wheat is around 65 percent.

Simsek said that U.S. HRS wheat in general has met the needs of overseas customers. In addition, HRS wheat produced in the United States is well-suited for the production of high-volume breads made by the traditional baking process. This includes hearth and pan breads, bagels and rolls, croissants, pizza crust, hamburger buns, frozen dough and par-baked products. It is amazing to realize that each bushel of HRS wheat can produce 50-90 loaves of bread.

“Every country has different types of bread product profile and my job is to explain how each country could utilize the different subclasses of HRS wheat products in their formulations,” she said. “One special comment I hear from the Indonesian market is that U.S. HRS wheat needs to have higher water absorption values.”

Simsek asks growers to please pay attention to "quality ratings" when they make planting decisions. Producing wheat with low levels of mycotoxins is important as well.

“I understand and respect that they are paid by bushels and proteins (only in some years), but buyers come to our region for high quality HRS wheat,” she said. “If we cannot deliver the quality, they will look for it in other countries. The international market is very competitive and sensitive.”