Varietal ID test available for five durum varieties

Spring wheat, malting barley may follow | The Saskatchewan Research Council developed the test to replace kernel visual distinguishability

Efforts to develop a commercial test that can identify different wheat varieties in a bulk grain shipment are bearing fruit.

Tajinder Grewal, a research scientist at the Saskatchewan Research Council’s GenServe Laboratories, said varietal ID tests are now available for five varieties of durum grown in Western Canada.

The tests can identify the presence of Brigade, Navigator, Eurostar, CDC Verona or Avonlea in a bulk durum shipment.

They can also determine the varietal purity of a shipment, telling handlers what percentage of the grain belongs to any one of the five selected varieties.

SRC officials in Saskatoon are continuing to assess the market potential for the tests, which have been available to the industry since last fall.

“We are in constant consultations with key industry stakeholders to make sure that these tests meet their technical and business needs,” Grewal said.

Test results for durum are normally available within three to five days, but work is continuing to reduce turnaround times, he added.

Similar tests will soon be available for other durum varieties including Strongfield, the most popular durum variety grown in Western Canada.

Plans are also in place to develop similar tests for popular western red spring (CWRS) varieties such as Lillian and Harvest.

The first CWRS tests could be available within 12 to 24 months.

If industry demand is sufficient, DNA tests for selected varieties of malting barley could also follow.

“We’re confident that the tests we have are highly accurate and effective,” said Brendan Payne, business unit manager at GenServe Laboratories. “Now, it’s just (a matter of) knowing how well they meet the market’s needs.”

Efforts to develop varietal ID tests have been ongoing since the Canadian grain industry signalled its intention to eliminate kernel visual distinguishability (KVD) more than five years ago.

At the time, industry stakeholders felt the elimination of KVD would highlight the need for new tests that could rapidly and accurately identify different crop varieties.

The industry had initially hoped to develop a “driveway test” capable of providing immediate results at elevators or other points in the grain delivery pipeline.

So far, the development of a driveway test has proven difficult because of the complexity of the technologies being used.

Nonetheless, the SRC’s platform could have significant market potential in Canada, specifically among producers who grow identity preserved (IP) crops and grain companies that serve value-added IP markets and supply grain to end users that have a low tolerance for varietal impurities.

“When grain handlers are purchasing grain from a producer and the producer is attesting that it’s a certain percentage of a specific variety, sometimes the shippers want to establish that with (a high degree of) confidence before they put (that grain) on a container ship with potentially huge liability,” he said.

The SRC is also developing a test that can ensure grain contained in a bulk shipment belongs to a registered variety.

For example, if a bulk shipment of durum is confirmed as 96 percent pure CDC Verona, the registered variety test would ensure shippers that the remaining four percent belongs to a variety that is registered for commercial production in Canada.

“That test is close to being ready as well,” said Payne.

Varietal ID testing is one of several commercial tests that the SRC now offers the grain industry.

GenServe also performs DNA tests that can detect genetically modified material in flax shipments or the presence of the Sm1 gene in midge-tolerant wheat blends.

Maintaining the Sm1 gene within a prescribed range is critical to maintaining the efficacy of midge tolerant wheat varieties now available to western Canadian growers.

Last year, the SRC also acquired a state-of-the-art grain quality lab in Saskatoon previously owned by CWB.

The lab, which was opened in 2011, provides a number of grain quality tests commonly used by commercial grain traders: grain grading, moisture testing, protein content, falling number tests and mycotoxin quantifications that measure fusarium vomitoxin, ochratoxin and other toxins that affect end-use quality.

The lab now provides grain quality tests on a fee-for-service basis to CWB and other grain handling companies.

Payne said those services, combined with GenServe’s recently commercialized varietal ID tests, put the SRC in an ideal position to serve the needs of Western Canada’s evolving grain industry.

“Even though we still have a strong presence on the livestock side, where we see the blue sky (opportunities) is in the development of new value-added crop tests,” he said.

“We’re already doing GMO testing on flax, but GMO testing in wheat is going to become huge over the next several years and we think we’re well positioned to take advantage of that opportunity as well.”

Funding to develop the varietal ID tests included approximately $4.3 million from Agriculture Canada’s AgriFlex program.

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