Scientists investigating the effect weather, agronomics and genotype have on milling wheat quality are appealing to farmers across the Prairies to participate in their study.
The goal is to improve the quantity, quality and consistency of Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) wheat and in so doing increase returns to farmers.
In return participating farmers will get a report on the quality of the wheat samples they submit, plus a summary of all the results.
University of Manitoba cereal chemist Harry Sapirstein and agro-meteorologist Paul Bullock are investigating nine CWRS wheats: Glenn, Stanley, Utmost, Carberry, Brandon, Cardale, Stettler, Unity and Harvest.
“What we are hoping to see is about 100 farmers for each variety respond so we can pick the 50 who are most widely distributed for each variety,” Sapirstein said in an interview.
Selected farmers will receive a package containing background information about the project, an information sheet to fill out and a pre-labelled sample container for shipping at no cost. Farmers will submit two kilograms of wheat representative of the field on which it was grown.
“That will tell an interesting story in how much variation grain companies see when farmers deliver to their elevators,” Sapirstein said.
The research was sparked by Canadian wheat customers who complained several years ago some shipments of Canada’s top-quality CWRS class wheat had weaker and more variable dough strength than normal.
“From what I hear (now) from my miller colleagues, they are seeing quite a lot of variability shipment to shipment from Western Canada whether their mills are in Eastern Canada or in Western Canada,” Sapirstein said. “This variability aspect of quality is not going away any time soon. “I think that part of the brand continues to be tainted a bit.”
Researchers have already identified that some CWRS wheats are on the low end of the acceptable range for gluten strength and some years weather conditions make it even worse.
Weather has a big impact on wheat quality, Bullock said. The grading and handling system can smooth quality variations but the trend to fewer, bigger elevators has resulted in less blending.
“The whole grain-handling system has moved to larger centralized points,” Bullock said. “The level of blending logistically has dropped. Now there is greater opportunity where regional difference in environment can actually cause greater variation in things like bread-making quality between shipments.”
In addition, wheat enters the handling system differently since the Canadian Wheat Board’s single marketing desk ended in 2012. Then wheats of varying grades and protein were contracted and delivered throughout the year. Now farmers can deliver all their wheat at once if they choose to.
“Now it could all go into a 100-car train… and shipment to shipment you have a lot more variability now in principle than what was happening under a delivery quota system,” Sapirstein said. “It’s very different grain-handling logistics now than in the past.”
Sapirstein and Bullock suspect some wheat varieties produce more consistent quality than others, despite variable growing conditions.
For example, does Glenn, known for its strong gluten strength, retain that strength better when the weather is poor compared to Harvest, which has weaker strength?
“This will be information that is valid in the short term and the long term moving forward,” he said.
The project is funded through a combination of public and farmer funds. Farmer money comes through the Western Grains Research Foundation, Alberta Wheat Commission, Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission and Manitoba Wheat and Barley Growers Association.