UK wheat availability looks set to be similar to last year, according to the AHDB/HGCA’s Early Balance Sheet.Published ahead of the official Defra estimates to be released on 16 November the provisional wheat production estimate stands at 15.363mt (0.485mt higher than 2010) up 3% on last year, following increases in yield and planted area. However, this has been offset by lower opening stocks (-25%) and an anticipated fall in imports of 6%, meaning total availability is estimated to be similar to 2010, at 17.83mt. Meanwhile, the balance between wheat availability and domestic consumption looks set to leave a surplus of 2.508mt, which could either be exported or held as free stock.”With good UK quality, milling imports are expected to be slightly lower than last season. Official import data is limited to July 2011, which showed 68kt of wheat arriving into the UK, compared to 87kt in July 2010,” according the report.At the recent HGCA and AHDB Grain Market Outlook conference, Jack Watts, senior analyst, market intelligence (cereals and oilseeds), AHDB, said that although there were no real concerns about supplies of wheat this year, 2011 had seen “a continued shift towards maize as the key issue”. More acreage is being given up in the US and Canada to maize production, at the expense of wheat, with year-on-year demand for maize up 3%.Shannon Schlecht, director of policy, US Wheat Associates, called for the grain industry to look more closely at the possibilities of biotechnology, especially when it came to how wheat yields could be increased, as they fight for land with maize crops. Schlecht told British Baker if wheat yields were not increased going forwards, through methods such as biotechnology, then the trade-off is higher food prices.