Researchers studying grain quality in new marketing environment

A new research project could help the prairie grain industry answer pressing questions about the quality of Canada’s wheat exports.

Researchers Harry Sapirstein and Paul Bullock from the University of Manitoba are leading a multi-year project that hopes to learn more about how the environment affects the development of wheat proteins and protein quality, specifically gluten strength.

It is expected that the research will shed light on some of the factors that have caused concerns over the quality and consistency of Canadian milling wheat.

Sapirstein said environmental conditions in Western Canada and changes to the grain marketing system since 2012 have had a noticeable impact on the quality of the country’s Canada Western Red Spring wheat exports.

“The importance of environmental factors (on the quality of exported wheat) has increased substantially,” said Sapirstein.

“The handling system does not blend off environmental factors anywhere close to what it used to.”

Concerns over the quality of Canada’s CWRS wheat exports became more common in 2012, just as the Canadian Wheat Board’s grain marketing monopoly was being removed and private sector grain handlers were beginning to export grain in the country’s newly deregulated wheat market.

Sapirstein said the rationale behind the research was to address industry concerns “in regard to deficient gluten strength and most definitely variable gluten strength in shipments of Canadian Western Red Spring wheat.”

Sapirstein said the project will comprise five sub-studies and involve numerous collaborators, including many of Western Canada’s most respected wheat breeders and cereal agronomists.

One of the sub-projects is a weather-focused study that looks at how environmental conditions affect the production of wheat proteins and gluten strength.

The weather-related study will include nine trial sites — three in each of the three prairie provinces — and nine CWRS varieties at each site, ranging from Harvest and Unity on the low-end of the gluten scale to Glenn on the high end.

Similar studies conducted more than a decade ago showed that weather can have a profound impact on wheat quality, even on fields that have been managed identically.

“When we did similar work more than a decade ago, what we found was that even a normal variation in weather that produces good quality wheat … can create a profound range of protein,” Sapirstein said.

“We were getting protein content ranging from 11 percent all the way up to 16 or 17 percent, so we want to have a much more careful look at that aspect, only this time with a broader range of genotypes and a broader range of trial sites and locations.”

Another sub-study examines the potential impact of using fungicides to control fusarium head blight and glyphosate as an in-crop dessicant, which are two common crop management techniques in Western Canada.

“We know that the application of fungicides at anthesis for fusarium head blight control, and certainly the use of glyphosate as a harvest aid, affects the grain development period and the synthesis of proteins … that eventually form the basis of wheat gluten, Sapirstein said.

“We want to have a closer look at that because it has never been studied before.”

A third sub-project will examine gluten strength variability in four or five common CWRS varieties based on samples received from commercial grain growers across the West.

Sapirstein said as many as 250 commercial wheat growers could participate in the project over each of the next three years.

Contact brian.cross@producer.com

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