A tough harvest has hit quality, but Western Canada still has the high-quality milling wheat it is famous for.
That’s the message prospective buyers will hear at seminars this fall and early winter in Asia, Latin America, Italy, and North and West Africa. The events are organized by Cereals Canada, the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) and the Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi).
“It might not be as easy to get at as it has been in past years so there are going to be some challenges,” Cereals Canada president Cam Dahl told the first 2019 new crop seminar earlier this month in Winnipeg.
“But for those countries that are looking for that high quality it is going to be there. It’s going to take a little bit more work perhaps to get it to the marketplace.
“It is going to be a little more of a challenge because of the (grade) diversity out there. When it’s 85 per cent No. 1 and 2 it’s obviously a simpler task.”
Why it matters: Canada’s global wheat brand has been built on high quality, making having enough supply to meet demand an important part of the equation.
Every fall as part of its Harvest Sample Program the CGC mails farmers envelopes they return with samples from their harvested crops. The CGC uses the samples to assess the new crop and shares the data with buyers. But because this year’s harvest was delayed a complete assessment hasn’t been made yet. That’s expected by early in the new year, Dahl said.
However, the samples of earlier-harvested Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) wheat — Canada’s top milling class — show the quality of the top grade is comparable to last year, CGC and Cigi experts told the seminar.
The average protein content for No. 1 and 2 CWRS is up from 2018. Falling number is down a bit, but well within the acceptable range.
Other important end-use specifications such as test weight and kernel weight, ash content and water absorption are within the acceptable range too.
That’s not surprising because Canada’s wheat-grading system is designed to provide millers and bakers with consistency one crop year to the next.
“What gets included in the milling grades must reflect the quality of the grades, especially in the top grades where we have very tight tolerances for various grading factors, which will ensure that it meets the quality that will be expected for No. 1 or No. 2 grades,” said Ashok Sarkar, Cigi’s senior adviser for technology.
The tolerances are more open for lower grades “so you would expect more variability there and that’s probably where most of the crop will be finding its place,” he added.
For example, the average falling number for No. 3 CWRS wheat is 305 seconds compared to 350 in 2018.
“Here we have some impact of sprout damage,” Sarkar said. “Most people will still consider it OK. As a rule of thumb millers globally would set a falling number spec of 300 minimum for most applications.”
There are, however, some applications where bakers want a higher falling number, he said.
The falling number test measures the time a plunger drops through a slurry of water and wheat flour. It’s used to assess how much alpha-amylase, an enzyme that increases with sprout damage. The more alpha-amylase the less viscous the slurry and the faster the plunger falls resulting in a lower falling number.
Less alpha-amylase makes the slurry thicker and the plunger falls more slowly resulting in a higher falling number. A higher number indicates the flour is better for bread making.
The CGC sends out about 20,000 envelopes under its Harvest Sample Program. Normally by mid-October around 10,000 samples have been returned, but this year only around 8,000 had been returned by then, said Gino Castonguay, the CGC’s chief grain inspector.
Of those, 3,372 were CWRS wheat. Seventy-seven per cent graded No. 1 and 2 — 38.9 per cent No. 1 and 38.1 per cent No. 2, while 13.5 per cent graded No. 3. The rest — 9.5 per cent — graded Canada Western Feed (CW).
The average protein content of all the CWRS wheat from the early samples was 13.5 per cent, which was slightly higher than the previous two crops at 13.0 and 13.1 per cent. The 10-year average is 13.5 per cent.
Wheat from the eastern Prairies (Manitoba to the middle of Saskatchewan) averaged 14.4 per cent protein versus 13.7 per cent last year.
The average from the western Prairies of 14.2 per cent is the same as 2018.
The top grades of 2019 CWRS wheat produce similar white pan bread to last year’s crop, said Yulia Borsuk, a Cigi technologist working on baking products.
Bread dough made from the early 2019 samples showed water absorption and mixing requirements are comparable to last year’s wheat, she said.
Dough handling for No. 1 and 2 are strong and moderate for No. 3.
There are two main ways to make pan bread — no-time dough, and sponge and dough. The former eliminates bulk fermentation by using high-energy mixing to speed up gluten development. The latter is a two-step process that takes longer.
The volume of loaves of bread made with 2019 CWRS wheat is slightly lower when using either method, she said.
With No. 2 the volume of loaf made with the no-time method this year is similar to last year, but lower when using the sponge and dough method.
Loaves made with No. 3 are slightly bigger this year using the no-time method and similar to last year when using the sponge and dough approach.
Total bread score, which combines various factors, using this year’s wheat is comparable, or slightly better, than last year’s, depending on the dough-making process, Borsuk said.