Last year, an experimental grading system for French wheats was devised to make it easier for buyers from other countries to assess its diversity and characteristics. The qualitative grading system comprises four classes — E, 1, 2 and 3 (a, b) — and was devised according to three main technical criteria: protein content, baking strength and Hagberg falling number as well as specific physical criteria.
All sectors of the French cereals industry had input into the new grading system, including the Office National Interprofessionnel des Céréales, a government agency that regulates market intervention and set-aside premiums; the Association Nationale de la Meunerie Francaise, the French milling association; and the Institut Technique des Céréales et des Fourrages, a private, technical research institute specializing in cereals and feed products.
Jean Gault, director of the Paris-based France Export Cereales, a private organization similar to the U.S. Wheat Association, said the new classification was developed to facilitate trading and meet the needs of buyers in what has become an increasingly segmented market, not only in Europe but worldwide.
"It is an objective reference for operators depending on the intended use — bread making, biscuit making, starch industry, animal feeding and so on," Mr. Gault said.
The new grading system is already being used commercially with disposition of standardized contracts from the 1999 French harvest, which produced some 36 million tonnes of wheat.
"By providing this classification of French wheats, we hope to facilitate the customer's assessment of the full range of wheats on offer in order to better target their procurement needs," Mr. Gault said.
TECHNICAL CRITERIA. The new French wheat classes are based on protein content, baking strength, Hagberg falling number and physical criteria. Protein level is measured by infrared technique and is expressed in percent. (French bread types require about 11% protein.)
Baking strength (W) indicates the ability of the wheat to produce bread through a physical examination of the dough using a Chopin alveograph. A test tube of dough is inflated at a constant rate of hydration and the results are recorded on a graph, the alveogram. This produces "W," which represents the amount of inflation in thousands of ergs per gram of dough.
The diastatic power of flour is measured by the Hagberg device, which monitors the degree of thickening of a flour and water paste. A time within a range of 250 to 180 seconds is considered satisfactory. When the falling number is above 250, correction can be made through the addition of amylases; a number below 180 can be remedied by increasing the amount of time the ferment culture is left to mature or by increasing the length of the primary fermentation.
The new French "E" class is defined by a protein content of 12% or greater, a baking strength of 250 or greater and a Hagberg falling number of 220 or greater.
Class 1 has 11% to 12.5% protein, baking strength of 160 to 250 and Hagberg of 220 or greater. Class 2 has 10.5% to 11.5% protein and Hagberg of 180 or greater; baking strength is determined according to contractual specification. Class 3 has a protein content of less than 10.5% and the baking strength and Hagberg are not specified.
In the case of classes E, 1 and 2, the physical criteria are the same: specific weight exceeds 760 kg/m3, lower than 15% humidity, less than 4% broken kernels, less than 2% sprouted kernels and less than 2% impurities. The physical criteria of Class 3 is divided into two categories: 3a (greater than 74 kg/m3, with the remaining physical criteria the same as the first three classes) and 3b (less than 74 kg/hl).
LATEST HARVEST. The 1999 French wheat harvest was a good "vintage," both for technical and physical criteria, according to the O.N.I.C. With a Hagberg falling number of 300s on average, French wheat encountered no germination problems in 1999.
The average protein content of 11.1% for all varieties was an improvement over the previous year, the agency said, while the average baking strength of all varieties suitable for bread-making reached the level of 170.
Almost three-quarters (74%) of the area planted to wheat in France was planted with varieties suitable for bread-making, compared to 68% the previous year, the O.N.I.C. said. Varieties that had "superior" bread-making qualities accounted for 55% of the total area planted, compared with 46% in 1998 and reversing a downward trend for these varieties that began in 1994.
Of the eight major wheat varieties grown in France, Soissons is still the main variety grown, accounting for 15% of the area planted to wheat, although other wheat varieties are gaining fast. One new variety, Isengrain, accounted for about 8% of total plantings.
Area planted to wheat varieties used for other than bread-making purposes, particularly animal feeding, decreased. Trémie, the second most popular wheat variety grown in France, covered 11% of the surface area in 1999, compared with 13% the previous year.
Physical qualities of the 1999 harvest were considered "excellent," with a moisture content of 13.2% and specific weights of 78.5 kg/hl, up 0.6 points over the previous year.
"The characteristics of French wheats make them apt to meet the expectations of the buyers on all segments of the market," the O.N.I.C. said. "The new grading can readily be applied to assess the diversified offer, a diversity to meet every demand."
Using the new grading system, 49.5% of the 36 million tonnes of wheat harvested in France in 1999 fell into Class 2; Class 1 represented 30% of the crop as well as 18% in Class 3a, 2% in Class E and 0.5% in Class 3b. Two French regions, Clermont and Toulouse, produced a particularly high amount of the E class of wheat.