Canada’s wheat grading system is essential so farmers get fairly compensated by grain buyers, says Stewart Wells.
Without it grain companies can pay farmers different prices for the same quality of wheat.
“It’s about transparency and farmers being paid properly and fairly for what they do,” Wells said in an interview Oct. 11. “If there is no regulation, and you have all the market power on the side of the grain companies, the farmer’s share is just going to continue to drop…”
But a growing number of farmers prefer being paid for their wheat based on specifications, including protein and falling number — attributes that relate directly to end-user requirements.
Grain companies already often buy wheat based on specifications.
Some see Canada’s wheat grading system as overly subjective, with too much emphasis on factors such as colour instead of objective measurements.
But it’s not as subjective as some believe, Gordon Miles, the Canadian Grain Commission’s (CGC) former chief operating officer, said in an interview before retiring this summer. That’s because certain end-use characteristics are built into Canadian wheats thanks to the variety evaluation process leading up to registration and the CGC’s wheat class system.
New western Canadian milling wheats must meet specific end-use standards for the intended class to be recommended for registration, a prerequisite to commercial production.
Each year the Western Grains Standards Committee prepares representative samples of various grades to aid grain inspectors.
Farmers can challenge a grain company’s grade with the CGC having the final say.
A visual grading system is cheap and efficient and helps keep grain moving through Canada’s bulk handling system. However, the CGC is constantly looking at ways to make grading more objective, Miles said.
A number of years ago protein testing was brought to elevators. The same might occur with falling number, a test to assess gluten viscosity. Elevator tests conducted a few years ago found unreliable results so it didn’t become part of the grading system. But that might change as testing equipment gets better, faster and cheaper.
Many grain companies already do falling number tests if wheat quality is in doubt or to ensure end-users get what they need.
“We do buy by grades from the farmers, but we sell most wheat based on specs,” Wade Sobkowich, executive director of the Western Grain Elevator Association, said in an interview. “The grading system is a bit funny — and I differentiate the grading system from the classification system. The classification system is super important. The grading system helps us buy from the farmer in an efficient way, but when we sell, we sell mostly based on specs.”