Finding out what the customer wants and then working toward that goal is paying off for Texas wheat producers, according to a Texas AgriLife Research wheat breeder.

That was the message heard on a recent visit to Coast Rica, Guatemala and Mexico by Dr. Jackie Rudd, AgriLife Research associate professor in charge of the wheat breeding and genetics program for the Panhandle.

Rudd and fellow AgriLife Research wheat breeder, Dr. Amir Ibrahim of College Station, were part of a team organized by U.S. Wheat Associates to visit import customers. The team's purpose was to ask customers what they liked and disliked about U.S. wheat.

U.S. Wheat Associates is a national organization responsible for export market development and is funded by wheat producers in various states including Texas.

A similar group went to these same countries in 2001 and listened to what the millers and bakers had to say, Rudd said.

“This trip, the millers specifically commented on how much improvement they’ve seen since the last trip in hard red winter wheat,” he said.

The difference has been the breeding of new varieties which offer stronger gluten characteristics for baking purposes and higher test weights to meet the milling needs, Rudd said.

“As researchers, these trips are important to help us define the end-use quality targets for the Texas AgriLife Research Wheat Breeding Program,” Rudd said.

The trip, and what researchers find out, is particularly important to Texas wheat producers because around 50 percent of the wheat grown in the U.S. is exported. Almost all Texas wheat is hard red winter wheat.

Mexico imports more than 100 million bushels of U.S. wheat annually, of which 50-60 million bushels are hard red winter wheat. The buyers would like to move from purchasing primarily blended loads of hard red winter wheat shipped from the Gulf to more rail shipments, which would allow them to specify the origin of the grain, Rudd said.

“A Mexican miller specifically said they were avoiding buying wheat from Texas because of poor quality in the past,” he said. “They now are interested in seeking sources of Texas wheat from the Panhandle because we are growing newer, better quality varieties.”

Rudd said on the trip he was also told another factor in Mexico wanting to look at Texas again is the close proximity, which would reduce shipping costs.

“The more that we know about processors and consumers of our wheat, the better we will be able to breed new wheat and develop better management strategies,” he said.

That is the primary goal of the Texas Wheat Producers Board, headquartered in Amarillo: to use research and market development to enhance the profitability of Texas wheat producers. The board helps fund U.S. Wheat and AgriLife Research’s wheat breeding program.

Rudd said not everything they heard was positive. Still the No. 1 complaint is the lack of consistency from purchase to purchase, due to the blending at the Gulf.

“We have a vast wheat growing area in the U.S.,” he said. “There are several different classes of wheat and many different varieties within each class, so that accounts for some of the variation.

“But the biggest variable is the environment across the different regions and from year to year,” Rudd said. “There is not a lot we can do with wheat genetics to limit this variability except to continue to tighten our quality targets and produce high quality wheat varieties that producers want to grow.”

Sourcing by origin will reduce the variability in the consistency they receive, he said.

Rudd said export buyers are becoming more and more sophisticated and are learning how to specify their purchase contracts to receive the wheat with the quality characteristics that they need.