Jan Knight hates being the bearer of bad news.
However, that’s going to be a big part of her job for the next few months as she informs farmers that their crops are likely to be downgraded because of disease and weather damage.
“I don’t want to be a ‘Debbie Downer,’ but there’s nothing really good to say,” said Knight after poring over the results of the first 10 days of testing for the Canadian Grain Commission’s Harvest Sample Program.
Indeed, early results show a western Canadian crop with much more downgradeable damage than in most years.
Last year in mid-September, 497 samples of Canada Western Red Spring had been graded, with 327 achieving No. 1 status.
This year, only 56 of 423 samples of CWRS were No. 1, which is 13.2 percent compared to 65.8 percent last year.
Knight oversees the harvest sample program in the basement of the grain commission’s building in downtown Winnipeg, where early morning mail delivers massive amounts of crop-filled envelopes from farmers.
The free program allows farmers to submit samples and receive a professional grade from a grain inspector, but it’s not a binding grade for commercial grain buyers. It’s just a professional grade of a small sample to give a farmer a better assessment of what he has in the bin.
It also provides the Canadian grain industry with a snapshot of the overall situation. New crop missions that go out across the globe to Canada’s customers provide crop quality estimates that are based to a large degree on the sample program results.
This year, the missions will have to inform buyers that there is a lot of disease in the crop.
“There are quite a few fuzz damaged kernels here,” Usman Mohamad, a grain commission inspector from Vancouver who was in Winnipeg for the harvest rush, said as he picked through a wheat sample.
“Fuzz” is the nickname that inspectors use for fusarium, and it’s being heard a lot around the Canadian grain industry this fall.
Daryl Beswitherick, the grain commission’s inspections manager, said a few diseases are showing up in many samples, including fusarium and mildew. Ergot is widely reported in some areas and will likely begin to be seen more often.
“A lot of the samples are being downgraded from No. 1 because of fusarium damage,” said Beswitherick.
“The wet weather we’ve had over the last two weeks has definitely taken its toll on crop quality as well.”
However, Beswitherick and Knight said the 2016 crop is a very mixed bag. There are No. 1 samples of CWRS and durum and good quality lentils and peas. As well, canola generally looks excellent.
“I think you’re going to see a pretty even distribution across all grades,” said Beswitherick.
“It’s going to be a full spectrum.”
Knight encouraged farmers who haven’t taken part in the sample program to sign up as soon as possible.
They’ll need to do it fast, though, because samples will need to be in by mid-October for crops to be graded in time to help the new crop missions.
Samples can be received until the end of the year for personal results.
Knight anticipates a busy year because farmers have a lot of questions about the state of their crops.
“We find submissions to the program in good years are much lower because they know they’ve got a No. 1,” said Knight.
Few farmers will have that confidence this year.