Long-term view needed on wheat quality

You shouldn’t shoot the messenger, or in this case the regulator sending out the message.

On April 20, the Canadian Grain Commission issued a news release announcing that five more varieties of Canada Western Red Spring wheat are being moved to the Canada Northern Hard Red wheat class effective August 1, 2021.

The reassignment comes after testing showed the gluten strength in these varieties was too low to meet customer expectations and was “reducing the overall quality of the Canada Western Red Spring wheat class.”

The Alberta Wheat Commission immediately issued a response expressing disappointment. In fact, the reaction was so immediate that the AWC release landed in some email boxes before the CGC announcement arrived.

The AWC complains that the long-term economic implications for farmers were not considered, noting that two of the varieties, AC Muchmore and AAC Redwater, are very popular in Alberta.

“Farmers are choosing these varieties because they are high yielding, have better disease resistance and are early maturing,” said AWC chair Kevin Bender in the release.

The AWC said it strongly encouraged the CGC to do an economic analysis to understand the full impact that will be felt throughout the Canadian value chain.

This is just the latest reassignment. On Aug. 1 of this year, 29 other varieties of wheat are being reassigned.

The opposition by AWC probably captures the sentiment of many wheat producers. CWRS is the most popular class of wheat in Western Canada and its dominance has been growing. Its milling characteristics, including gluten strength and high protein, typically enable it to command a premium over other wheat classes and over competing wheat varieties from other nations.

Despite higher yields and better performance, varieties removed from the CWRS class will be doomed to relative obscurity because their value per bushel will drop. Unfortunately, you can’t have your cake and eat it, too. If you don’t maintain high standards for CWRS, eventually the premium will disappear.

The AWC points out that there have been no known complaints from global buyers about the five varieties being reclassified. However, buyers seldom buy wheat by variety. They buy by class and expect their cargoes to meet the quality they have come to expect.

Varieties with lower than desirable gluten strength are masked by superior varieties in the blend received by customers. However, when varieties with lower gluten strength start making up a larger percentage of the total, you have a problem. The extra scrutiny on gluten strength is due to customer concerns dating back several years.

It’s unfortunate that wheat varieties sometimes appear to meet quality parameters when they’re registered, but fall short in subsequent testing. The CGC says the reassignment of the five varieties was based on a thorough evaluation of data from across the three prairie provinces over the past two crop years.

Three years of public notice are being provided before the latest changes come into effect to give producers time to clear existing stocks.

Without a high standard, CWRS wheat would compete directly with the flood of lower quality wheat coming out of the Baltic Sea nations. While wheat variety classification may not be popular, that doesn’t make it wrong.

The AWC says it would have liked to see the grain commission consult with farmers. For its part, the commission said there were extensive consultations with all stakeholders on the modernization of wheat classes dating back to 2015.

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