CGC resumes research into spring oilseed harvest quality

The Canadian Grain Commission has rebooted a research project aimed at examining the quality and storability of spring-harvested canola and flaxseed.

The CGC project was temporarily suspended earlier this year due to concerns over workplace safety caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

But Veronique Barthet, program manager of oilseeds at the CGC’s Grain Research Laboratory in Winnipeg, says new workplace protocols have been implemented at the lab to ensure that CGC staff can safely resume work.

Lab personnel are working on a rotational basis, Barthet said.

Fewer staff members will be on duty at the same time, allowing for safer working distances.

Flax and canola growers who were unable to harvest their oilseeds last fall are encouraged to send in spring-harvested samples as soon as possible after they have been combined.

Samples will be assessed and quality data will be returned to growers via email, hopefully within a month of the samples being submitted, said Barthet.

Submitted samples will be assigned an unofficial grade and will also be examined for oil and protein content, chlorophyll content in canola, iodine values in flax and free fatty acid content.

Additional details of the program can be viewed online here.

“We are trying to do the same quality of work. It will just take a little bit longer to do it,” Barthet said, referring to the lab’s new workplace safety protocols.

“When you have seven people working in the same room, you have to change quite a few things to be able to maintain social distancing. So, it took a little bit of time to implement everything and to make sure that we are following the workplace safety protocols that everyone has to follow.”

Because of a challenging and wet harvest last fall, western Canadian oilseed growers were unable to harvest a significant amount of last year’s canola and flaxseed crops.

According to the CGC, more than 40 percent of last year’s flax acres spent the winter in the field, as well as 20 percent of Alberta canola.

As much as two million acres of canola have reportedly been left in the field this winter across the Prairies. Barthet said she is hoping to receive about 100 spring-harvested canola samples.

“One hundred is a good number because you should have a good representation of all the grades,” she said.

This is the second time in four years that the CGC has conducted research on spring-harvested oilseeds. Poor harvest conditions in the fall of 2016 meant that a substantial portion of canola acres in the 2016-17 crop year had to be harvested the following spring.

CGC research conducted in 2017 suggested that the quality of spring-harvested canola may be prone to further deterioration after it has been combined and placed in storage.

Among other things, this year’s CGC project hopes to learn more about the potential for post-harvest quality losses.

The research could provide guidance to farmers on whether they should be marketing spring-harvested material within a specified period to avoid further economic losses.

“We saw (in the spring of 2017) that there was a lot of degradation when we were storing the samples, even in good storage conditions like low moisture and not-too-high temperatures,” Barthet told The Western Producer earlier this year.

“I think it’s important for people to know that if they have seed like this, they may have to process it right away because the good quality (may not) last.”

Researchers believe that the quality of spring-harvested canola is more prone to deterioration if the seed is frozen, thawed and refrozen too many times.

Repeated freeze-thaw cycles during the winter may result in the formation of ice crystals that damage the cell structures within the seed and lead to quality deterioration.

In canola, repeated freezing can stimulate enzymatic activity that releases free fatty acids within the seed and leads to oil oxidization.

Oxidization and elevated free fatty acid levels in canola are often manifested as orange-coloured or rancid-smelling meal when the seeds are crushed.

“That’s probably what’s happening, but we would like to confirm,” Barthet said.

In 2017, the CGC analyzed 161 samples of spring-harvested canola. Of those, 55 samples (34.2 percent) graded No. 1, 41 samples (25.5 percent) graded No. 2, and 33 samples (20.5 percent) were graded No. 3.

The remaining 32 submissions were graded Sample.

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