Highlights from The Global Miller’s Symposium
– An interview with a geobotanist and a breakdown of “The Flour Sack of the Year” awards
“Wheat cultivation needs to be massively expanded” – An interview with a geobotanist
Wheat is a staple food with a very promising future. According to FAO projections, demand will double by 2050. But as positive as this might sound for the milling industry, there is another side to the coin – production growth comes nowhere near to meeting the projected rise in demand. In order to supply nine billion people with wheat in 30 years, the area under cultivation needs to be expanded massively, worldwide. Prof. Dr. Hansjörg Küster of the Leibniz University in Hannover, Germany, called for a fundamental reorientation of agriculture at the Global Miller’s Symposium. Milling and Grain (Mühlenchemie) followed up with the renowned geobotanist.
Wheat is a cornerstone of world nutrition, and next to rice is the most important staple food. Does this mean things look good for the milling business?
Right now the situation is balanced. Supply meets demand. But this will change dramatically. World population will rise rapidly, and with it the demand for foods from wheat. If there is not a fundamental shift in agricultural policy, soon there will be a huge gap between supply and demand.
How is agriculture supposed to double the amount of wheat it produces in just three decades?
We urgently need to intensify grain growing. To do it, we will need to open up entirely new areas for cultivation, even if the soil and climate are not ideal. In addition, formerly cultivated areas will have to be taken back under the plough. For example, in many hilly regions agriculture has greatly declined. That was a mistake and needs to be reversed. In the past, ill-conceived incentives have been offered for growing maize and feed. But maize is a major contributor to soil erosion. So there are good reasons to return to a stronger focus on wheat growing.
Who is responsible for this?
We need a cooperative effort by agricultural policymakers, farmers, economists and the food industry. A working group that develops strategies for the future. We need to think much more carefully about what products we should be growing in the future, especially in the industrialised countries, we should intensify agriculture again. 46 | August 2017 - Milling and Grain
What are the minimum requirements for growing wheat?
There has to be a wet phase, a rainy season, in which the seed can germinate and grow, of equal importance is a dry season so the grain can ripen. Given these conditions, wheat can grow in many parts of the world.
In the US, winter wheat cultivation of just 13.1 million hectares is expected for 2017 – 10 percent less than the previous year, where are the signs of expansion there? This is a disastrous development. Wheat production should be expanded in the US, of all places. The main growing area right now is the central plains, especially Kansas, but the western plains are also well suited. Surely, they have longer dry periods, but that doesn’t need to preclude more wheat cultivation.
Do you go along with the efforts to grow more wheat in Africa?
Africa has some regions that are suitable for wheat. But there’s no point planting wheat in areas where it’s hot and damp all the time, like in the tropics. And there’s no point planting wheat in areas that are dry all the time. The cost for artificial irrigation is just too high. So in my opinion Africa should choose another path.
What alternatives do you have in mind?
It’s simply a fact that wheat needs a combination of wet growing season and dry ripening season. Only a few areas in Africa offer this. It would be a better idea to concentrate on traditional plants that need little rain, like manioc, sago or oil palms. I think that would be more beneficial for many African countries. They can then sell these products to finance imports of wheat.
We’re seeing a return to old crops and varieties in Europe, with a boom in cultivars like emmer and einkorn, what do you think of this trend?
It makes no sense to push the old wheat varieties. Some of them might have a higher protein content, like spelt, which is closely related to durum wheat. But these varieties won’t solve our food supply problems. We could live with it well enough in Western Europe, but we also have to think of Africa.
What do you think about the lifestyle trend of avoiding wheat and gluten? I don’t see anything at all bad about wheat. Wheat is a crop with