The late John Smith has left a lasting legacy for Prairie farmers.
Smith, a Pilot Mound farmer who was also president of Seed Depot until his death in September, began the process of registering the high-yielding U.S. dark northern spring wheat variety Faller in 2012.
On Feb. 25 the variety, along with Prosper and Elgin ND, was recommended for full registration, following interim registration and their addition to the new Canada Northern Harvest Red (CNHR) wheat class last year.
While Smith never lived to bask in the satisfaction of seeing the varieties registered, his son Walter, who now heads up the company, is certainly pleased with the development.
“We’re happy it’s no longer an interim thing and that farmers have the guarantee that this will be registered for the foreseeable future rather than for a short time,” Smith said in an interview Feb. 26.
“You can build a marketing program around it.”
Since these varieties were approved by the Prairie Recommending Committee for Wheat, Rye and Triticale’s (PRCWRT) evaluation teams last week, committee support for full registration was automatic, and somewhat anticlimactic. When the PRCWRT met Feb. 25, the varieties weren’t even discussed.
The lack of fanfare belies the significance of what has transpired and the big shift it represents. For more than 30 years Manitoba farmers have dabbled with unregistered American wheats, attracted to their potentially higher yield. The concern was they’d be misrepresented and delivered into the Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) class, undermining its consistency and quality reputation.
John Smith was very happy when Faller and Prosper were recommended for interim registration a year ago.
“If a farmer from Pilot Mound can make this happen other seed companies can too,” he said in an interview at the 2015 PRCWRT meeting in Banff.
“We figured we’d take a stab at it in the freedom created by the wheat board not being there anymore.
“If you would’ve told me when we obtained the rights to these varieties that there would be a whole new class and the CGC, CFIA and the registration committee would all get together to make it happen — that there was that much flexibility in the system — I wouldn’t have believed you. I would’ve bet the farm against that one.”
In December 2014, the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) announced a review of the West’s wheat class system, partly in response to customer complaints about low gluten strength in the CWRS class. But it was also driven by farmers wanting to grow higher-yielding, slightly lower-protein American milling wheats. The outcome is tighter gluten strength standards for the CWRS class and the new CNHR class.
John Smith kicked off the process in 2012 getting Faller into the registration trials that generate the data the PRCWRT uses to assess new varieties before recommending whether they should be registered. Registration is a prerequisite to commercialization. Smith believed Faller might fit the Canada Prairie Spring class, which has lower protein and gluten strength standards than CWRS.
By 2013, Faller was being contracted by Richardson International in a closed-loop, identity-preserved program for British bread maker Warburtons. The program expanded in 2014.
When Walter Smith and his father started work on Faller, they never expected there would be a new class developed for it.
“When we started down this road we just wanted to make sure farmers could grow wheat that gave them more money and increase their bottom line and the registration committee, the CGC and the CFIA all pulled together to help our farmers make some more money,” Smith said. “Hopefully it will give a good boost to our economy here.”
It’s anyone’s guess where this might lead. The Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) wheat class — home to Canada’s best and highest-priced milling wheat — accounts for most of the acres on the Prairies. But it’s possible over time CNHR could challenge CWRS’s hegemony. While Faller, Prosper and Elgin usually sell at a discount to CWRS wheats, they yield 20 per cent more, which often results in more revenue per acre. It’s widely believed that Western Canada produces more high-quality milling wheat than world markets demand.
The new CNHR class isn’t exclusively for Faller, Prosper and Elgin ND. Twenty-five CNHR and four CPS wheats that no longer meet the class standard will move to the CNHR class Aug. 1, 2018.
Formost, a CPS wheat popular in Alberta, is one of them. Alberta Wheat Commission general manager Tom Steve fears wheats in the CNHR class will be discounted relative to CPS wheats.
“Right now in Manitoba Faller and Prosper are at a 20-cent (a bushel) discount and sometimes it’s at par with CWRS (Canada’s highest-priced wheat),” he said. “To say the CNHR will be at a discount to CPS I think would be a bit of a stretch.”
Rod Merryweather, FP Genetic’s chief executive officer, also expects prices for wheats in the two classes will be similar. Moving the lower gluten strength CWRS wheats to CNHR will boost protein in the class, Merryweather added.
Both Merryweather and Smith noted that since Faller, Prosper and Elgin ND yield consistently 20 per cent more than CWRS varieties, it more than offsets the price discount to CWRS.
“It (CNHR) is another class of wheat that allows us to compete in another market segment, so I think that’s ultimately going to be positive for our growers in Canada because it will give them other markets. And hopefully, that makes wheat a more attractive crop,” he said.
In 2014, even without being registered, Faller was Manitoba’s sixth most popular wheat, at 127,773 acres, according to crop insurance data. Acreage jumped 16 per cent in 2015 to 152,099.
Last year Faller was again the sixth most popular variety behind five CWRS varieties: (1) Carberry (518,671 acres), (2) Cardale (503,116), (3) Harvest (310,529), (4) AAC Brandon (274,412) and (5) Glenn (241,143).