Grain company use of falling-number tests riles farmers

Delegates at a recent farm meeting gave the head of the grain commission an earful about falling number’s use for grading

Farmers took their frustrations over grain companies’ use of falling number on contracts to the head of the Canadian Grain Commission last month.

Several delegates to the Agricultural Producers Association of Saskatchewan annual meeting told chief commissioner Patti Miller that companies shouldn’t be able to use falling number to determine grade under CGC rules.

Miller said if the companies include it in a contract and the farmer signs the contract, then that is the agreement.

“It’s not a statutory grading factor, so in that sense grain can’t be downgraded because of falling number,” she said. “But you’re seeing it on contracts, so contracts can include a minimum falling number value and discounts for grain that doesn’t meet that.”

The falling number test is used to estimate the amount of sprout damage in cereals, but does not take into account many other grading factors.

Delegates said grain companies are using the number as a grading factor.

“Isn’t that a clever way of the companies sidestepping the rules and regulations of grain grading?” asked Karl Koch from the Rural Municipality of Manitou Lake.

“I think farmers are very frustrated,” said APAS president Todd Lewis. “You can’t sign a contract unless that number is in there. We’re looking for protection.”

Miller said she heard the frustration.

“It is part of the transition from some of the visual standards we got to the kind of specifications that end-use customers are asking for,” she said.

The CGC and Canada Grain Act are under review, and Miller said a survey done last March asked for opinions on falling number and DON tests and whether they should be added to how the CGC grades grain because grain companies are adding it to contracts.

She said most respondents said they liked more accurate testing but weren’t sure if falling number tests were consistently reproducible. They were concerned that those doing the measuring may not have the appropriate skills, whether the system would be slower and who would pay for added costs.

“And then of course this year happened and now everybody is talking about DON and falling number,” Miller said. “You need to balance the desire to make grading more accurate and objective with the costs and the associated implications for the entire value chain.”

Koch said the issue has to be addressed as he watched No. 1 wheat downgraded to feed grade because of falling number. Other grain had a good falling number but was visually graded a No. 3 because of bran frost, he said.

APAS past-president Norm Hall said he attended a CGC grading school and found it valuable.

“We would really love to see the CGC implement, shall we call it, a grading school for the grain companies so that grain grading became a trade,” he said.

He noted that third-party inspectors at SGS Canada are trained by the CGC.

Miller said CGC inspectors receive four years of training but the commission is trying to tighten that up because of growing demand.

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