Wheat reclassification receives mixed reaction

Five Canada western red spring wheat varieties reassigned to the lower-valued Canada northern hard red class

A decision to reclassify five more Canada western red spring wheat varieties to the lower-valued Canada northern hard red class is generating mixed reviews from Canadian agricultural groups.

Some, including the Alberta Wheat Growers Commission, say the decision will have a significant and negative financial impact on the province’s wheat producers, particularly pedigreed seed growers who have been multiplying pedigreed stocks of the varieties in hopes of selling them as certified seed.

Others, including the member-owned seed distribution company SeCan, say the decision is disappointing but understandable, adding that the procedures and rationale for re-evaluating and reclassifying were well understood in advance of the decision.

On April 20, the Canadian Grain Commission announced that five CWRS varieties — AAC Redwater, Muchmore, AC Domain, Vesper and 5605 HR CL — would be reclassified effective Aug. 1, 2021.

According to the grain commission, the decision to reclassify came after a comprehensive evaluation and scientific trials that showed gluten strength in the varieties was too low to meet the expectations of CWRS wheat buyers.

Allowing the varieties to remain in the CWRS class would reduce the overall quality of the class, which is Western Canada’s largest and most valuable.

Kevin Bender, chair of the Alberta Wheat Growers Commission, said he’s disappointed in the decision, particularly with respect to AAC Redwater and Muchmore.

Those two varieties have been very popular among Alberta growers and have commanded significant acreage in the province over the past few years.

Acres of AC Muchmore have grown by 209 percent since 2014, while acres of AAC Redwater, a high-yielding, early-maturing variety, have increased 234 percent since 2015, according to the wheat commission.

Bender he would have preferred more consultation and a more thorough assessment process that considered the economic impact on the province’s wheat growers.

He also suggested that agronomic and environmental factors — not only seed genetics — may be to blame for low gluten levels in some CWRS varieties.

Either way, the loss of the varieties will hit some growers in the pocketbook.

“Farmers are choosing these varieties because they are high-yielding, have better disease resistance and are early maturing,” Bender said.

“If the quality of these particular varieties has never been raised as an issue with our global customers, then farmers should be able to choose them based on their agronomic advantage without losing economic value.”

Price spreads between the CWRS class and the CNHR class vary from region to region across Western Canada, but recent spreads in some parts of the West have been as great as $2 per bushel, say sources in the industry.

The Canadian Grain Commission is providing three years’ notice before these changes come into effect, a time lag that should give producers ample opportunities to grow and sell existing stocks of the varieties at optimal values.

At SeCan, news of the reclassification came as a disappointment, said Todd Hyra, SeCan’s business manger for Western Canada.

But it was not totally unexpected.

SeCan holds distribution rights for three of the five varieties scheduled for reclassification, including AAC Redwater, Vesper and AC Domain.

“We agreed to the process … and we went through the steps so we’re not surprised, I guess, because we knew those products were under evaluation,” said Hyra.

“But we’re disappointed, in particular with AAC Redwater.”

Hyra said Vesper and Domain will be easier to replace than Redwater.

Suitable replacements have already been developed for Vesper, he said.

AC Domain, despite having a great reputation for grade retention, had a good run and was assumed to be past the peak of its commercial life cycle.

“Really, the big disappointment for us was Redwater because it was a unique product,” Hyra said.

By virtue of its earlier maturity, Redwater was a good fit for CWRS growers in short-season growing areas where late-spring and early-autumn frosts are a concern.

It was also a good yielder.

“This one was five days earlier than the checks … and five days for an individual in the parkland region, for example … can really add up over time.”

Hyra said SeCan understands why the grain commission and the Canadian wheat industry in general saw the need to tighten gluten strength parameters in the CWRS class.

The rationale behind the reclassification was sound, he said.

“In retrospect, (the industry) probably could have done things a bit differently, but the protocol was set up, it seemed logical at the time and we agreed to it, so that’s where it’s at.”

In its April 20 announcement, the grain commission said the decision to reassign the five varieties was based on a “thorough evaluation of data collected during trials conducted across the three prairie provinces over two crop years.”

Each of the varieties was assessed for gluten strength relative to established benchmarks for the CWRS wheat class, and it was determined that the varieties do not meet the necessary quality parameters of the CWRS class. 

“With these changes, the Canadian Grain Commission has taken steps to protect the reputation and performance of one of the most sought-after wheat classes on the market,” said CGC chief commissioner Patti Miller.

“We have responded to concerns raised by our customers and this will ensure that Canada’s wheat industry maintains its reputation as a consistent supplier of high quality milling wheat.”

The commission began implementing a plan in January 2015 to modernize Canada’s wheat classes.

That process included an evaluation of the quality of individual varieties within certain wheat classes.

With the latest announcement, 35 wheat varieties from the CWRS and Canada Prairie Spring Red (CPSR) classes are now scheduled for reclassification between Aug. 1, 2018, and Aug. 1, 2021.

A complete list of those varieties can be viewed online at bit.ly/2HtRHej or by visiting the grain commission’s website.

Western Canadian wheat farmers are urged to review the list of varieties that will be reclassified in 2018.

In some cases, wheat crops that are planted as CWRS this spring will be harvested as CNHR.

Depending on location, marketing opportunities for CNHR may be limited and prices could be devalued, relative to CWRS.

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