Drought-stricken crops expected to grade lower

Small, shrunken kernels and lower test weights due to severe heat and lack of rain this summer could reduce paycheques at the elevator

A significant number of grain growers in Western Canada have already come to grips with the fact that this year’s drought-affected harvest will be a disappointment in terms of yield.

It remains to be seen how the hot, dry growing conditions will affect quality.

Derek Bunkowsky, chief grain inspector with the Canadian Grain Commission, says hot, dry growing seasons typically produce grain that is well-conditioned, high in protein and free of sprouted kernels, mildew, mould or kernel discolouration.

“Typically, in a dry year, we actually see very good quality, overall, for wheat and that’s because we don’t have problems with sprouting or mildew or fusarium,” Bunkowsky said.

“In these drier years, we typically have very high HVK (hard vitreous kernels) and very good protein levels, so it’s not all a bad news story from a quality perspective.”

But concerns are mounting about whether cereal crops will have enough moisture to fill kernels properly.

Spring wheat and barley crops across a large portion of the Prairies are producing short, stunted plants, some of which will produce little or no grain.

For plants that do produce, it is likely that the grain could contain an unusually high number of small and shrunken kernels, potentially resulting in costly grade discounts.

Low test weights could also result in reduced grain grades, particularly in wheat, barley and oats.

Bunkowsky said the commission is anticipating issues with wheat and other crops that may not fill properly.

“What can end up happening is we can see more shrunken kernels and smaller seed sizes and that can ultimately end up negatively impacting grade,” he said.

“The other thing that we’ll often see in an extremely dry year… is a reduction in test weights.”

Small and shrunken kernels are visual grading factors that can result in smaller paycheques for grain growers.

To avoid unfair monetary penalties, producers should be aware of the grade of grain they are selling and familiarize themselves with factors that can affect grade.

Primary grade determinants for Canadian wheat classes can be viewed on line at bit.ly/3j2kOFB.

A list of all grading factors can be viewed at bit.ly/2Vf48T8.

Producers are encouraged to submit representative samples of their harvested grain to the grain commission’s Harvest Sample Program, which offers an unofficial grade determination, protein content evaluations on wheat and dockage assessments on canola, in addition to other important grain quality data.

Accurately determining test weight requires the assessor to use specialized equipment and follow a pre-determined procedure, explained online at bit.ly/3zP3cnl.

Test weight tolerances for wheat vary depending on the wheat class, but for a No.1 Canadian Western red spring wheat, the minimum test weight is 75 kilograms per hectolitre, or 365 grams per half litre of grain.

In Canadian Western Amber Durum, the minimum test weight for top grade is 79 kg per hectolitre, or 387 grams per half litre of grain.

To avoid disappointment, growers concerned by potential test-weight-related grade discounts should have the test weights of their grain accurately assessed before the grain is delivered.

Bunkowsky said dockage determination in canola is another issue that may warrant extra attention this year.

In a dry year, canola plants may produce a higher proportion of sound but small seeds.

Small but sound canola seeds can be removed erroneously, and at the expense of the producer, when dockage is being determined, particularly if the proper screen isn’t used, Bunkowsky said.

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