The Canadian Grain Commission says it’s reassuring customers that changes to the wheat board won’t undermine Canada’s wheat quality, but some buyers say that it’s already undermined.
“They were really concerned that we’d be like Australia (and) when we lost the single desk we’d lose quality control and we’d also lose variety control,” assistant chief grain commissioner Jim Smolik told the Winter Cereals Manitoba annual meeting March 13.
However, Smolik said that for the last two years some customers have complained that Canada Western Red Spring lacks gluten strength. Harvest, Lillian and Unity have weaker gluten, but they dominate the class because of their agronomic benefits. Customers warn if CWRS doesn’t offer stronger gluten in the next year or two they’re going to buy wheat elsewhere, Smolik said.
Despite the CGC’s reassurance, it reports to Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, who is calling for major changes to the wheat variety registration system. In a recent letter to the chairs of the expert committees that recommend which new varieties should be registered, Ritz said he wanted the process streamlined, suggesting fewer tests over fewer years.
Some farmers at the meeting said they wanted to grow varieties that performed best for them. With an open market, farmers should be free to grow what they want, said Portage la Prairie farmer Jim Pallister.
The current system already allows farmers to grow and sell whatever wheats they want, Smolik said. It’s illegal to import unregistered wheat varieties for seed (with a couple of exceptions) and when delivered, unregistered wheats receive the lowest grade. But in an open market, the latter doesn’t necessarily restrict commerce.
“As a producer you can make a deal with a grain company that they’ll buy it on a certain spec and you agree to a certain price and you can market it outside the Canadian Grain Commission’s statutory grades,” Smolik said.
For example, CDC Falcon winter wheat is being moved to the Canada Western General Purpose (CWGP) class Aug. 1, 2014 because of protein which is too low for the Canada Western Red Winter class.
But Doug Martin, who farms at East Selkirk and chairs Winter Cereals Manitoba, said he sold 60 per cent of his CDC Falcon last fall to a flour mill in Minneapolis for $8.50 a bushel. Martin noted Prairie Flour Mills at Elie sometimes buys CDC Falcon too.
Dale Hicks, a farmer from Outlook, Sask. and chair of Winter Cereals Canada, said he’s growing Peregrine winter wheat for seed and exporting it to Montana where it is one of the leading milling wheats. In Canada, Peregrine is in the CWGP class, which is aimed at the ethanol and livestock feed market.
Hicks, who said he agrees customers want consistent quality, suggested variety registration tests should be more regional.
“If it (a variety) works good for us in our area why should we not be able to do it?”
Smolik agreed that there’s a demand for medium-quality wheat, but said buyers want the best quality in a particular class.
“The problem is when you start blending them how do millers react to that situation?” he said. “When you talk about companies that produce 87,000 loaves (of bread) an hour they need consistency coming in.”