Inconsistent wheat quality could risk reputation

Wheat buyers say the Canadian Wheat Board could source grain 
from a variety of sources to give clients the quality they required

Canadian wheat’s quality and consistency aren’t getting better and have actually gotten worse, says Canada’s most prominent baking company.

That’s a costly and upsetting situation for a breadmaker that saw decades of stability during the Canadian Wheat Board years.

“What we have had over the last couple of years is we have had inconsistency and we have had weaker baking qualities from the wheat we buy,” said Connie Morrison, senior vice president of Canada Bread, whose company buys about 300,000 tonnes per year of Canadian wheat.

If three or four bakeries are all using the same recipe, and all the milling equipment is set right, then the incoming wheat must be the problem if something goes wacky at one mill only, the company has concluded, Morrison said in a speech to the Canadian Global Crops Symposium.

“All of a sudden we will have a quality issue in one of the bakeries.”

Her comments are similar to those made by other significant buyers of Canadian grains in the past two years, as The Western Producer has reported. Since 2012 something has gone wrong with Canada’s formerly unchallenged ability to deliver high quality and very consistent wheat to millers and bakers both within Canada and overseas.

The problems began arising soon after the Canadian Wheat Board’s marketing monopolies were dismantled, leading many to believe the problems are more than coincidental.

The CWB was able to source grain from every point in Western Canada in order to fulfill customer’s needs, and the CWB was famed for making sure customers always got at least the minimum of what they contracted for.

With the board monopolies broken, some worried that the grain companies – each using a much smaller grain collection system – couldn’t or wouldn’t meet the same high level of customer service.

The complaints of Singapore’s Prima Group, Switzerland’s IFACO and Canada Bread could seem to support those concerns.

However, the CWB demise occurred at the same time as certain low-gluten-strength wheat varieties became Prairie favourites.

Morrison said in an interview that it is possible that the problem is as much with the new varieties as it is with the lack of a central grain sourcing and marketing agency like the CWB.

“It probably is,” she said in an interview.

That’s why Canada Bread wants to see the new class of low-gluten wheat created as soon as possible, in order to remove those from the high-quality baking class, and was saddened that the introduction has been delayed.

However, now that it has seen problems with the consistency of Canadian grain, it is becoming involved in trying to develop better varieties and a better system.

It is funding research at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Centre (CIMMYT) in Mexico and has joined Cereals Canada.

“I think we took for granted for too many years with the Canadian Wheat Board that there was kind of a constant supply and quality wasn’t an issue,” said Morrison.

“Now that we realize there’s a lot of variability out there, I think we’re going to become absolutely more engaged.”

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