The Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) says it will look into the merits of including falling number and DON measurements as part of official western Canadian wheat grades, as requested by the Alberta Wheat Commission (AWC) last week.
“Our GRL (Grain Research Laboratory) and Industry services officials will establish a team to look at implementing changes into the future,” CGC spokesman Remi Gosselin said in an interview Nov. 17. “And this would certainly include significant engagement with all grain industry stakeholders — farmers, farm groups, grain handlers, processors, all the way to end-use customers.”
Currently CGC grades consider sprouting and fusarium-damaged kernels (FDK) as proxies for falling number and DON (deoxynivalenol, a toxin that sometimes follows fusarium head blight infections).
“We may not be getting paid for the quality that we are getting if you’re not measuring those things because we are using proxies,” AWC chair Kevin Auch said in an interview.
“We don’t want them to do anything that is impossible, but there is an objective measure for something that millers do care about and feeders too (when it comes to DON).”
There is a correlation between FDK and DON, but it’s variable. Sometimes there can be a lot of damage and very little DON and vice versa.
Calls for replacing visual proxies with instrument measurements aren’t new. In 2005 the Canadian Wheat Board proposed falling number be an official grading factor. Many wheat customers include falling number in their purchase specifications.
Falling number is calculated by recording the time it takes a plunger to fall in a test tube containing a slurry of water and wheat flour. The faster the plunger falls, the lower the viscosity of the solution and the poorer the bread-making quality.
Falling number is an internationally recognized proxy for determining alpha amylase, the enzyme that affects break making.
Measuring falling number the traditional way is time consuming, but there are machines such as the Rapid Visco Analyzer, that do it faster. But when the CGC studied the machines a decade ago it found they weren’t accurate enough when used outside a lab. As a result the CGC didn’t make the change.
Back then the Western Grain Elevator Association saw potential for driveway falling number tests, but added the expense wouldn’t be worth it unless the tests were accurate.
Usually changes to wheat grading come slowly. For example in October the CGC revised its standards for mildew, which is caused by various fungi under wet conditions. As a result now wheat can have more mildew before being downgraded. But the change followed two years of research by the CGC and consultations with end-users.
The CGC also discussed its findings with the Western Standard Committee’s wheat subcommittee.
The Western Standard Committee, which was created in 1930, includes farmer, grain company, processor and government representatives, Gosselin said.
“The standards committee makes recommendations on grades and specifications,” he said.
It meets twice a year — in fall after harvest and in the spring before planting.
The CGC is committed to a science-based approach to grading, Gosselin said. And while some grading factors are assessed visually the CGC works to limit the subjectivity by building representative samples of each grade every fall for inspectors to compare against.
“At the grain standards committee in early September the CGC indicated that we would move the grading system from subjective visual factors to more objective analytical factors and that it was a strategic direction for the organization,” Gosselin said.
“We have a wheat class system and grades in place that also serve us well, not only for segregation purposes but also ensuring consistency in terms of performance. There is always room for improvement. And that is part of what the standards committees do.”
Auch agrees Canada has a good grading system, but objectively measuring quality attributes would serve everyone better than visual proxies, he said.
“We think this is something that is important and we would like them (CGC) to look at it,” he said.
“If it makes sense it will happen. When we look at it, it just makes sense. It’s just machinery that we need to get this done.”