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Farmers conflicted on falling number as grade factor

The Keystone Agricultural Producers (KAP) and Alberta Wheat Commission (AWC) have advocated for adding falling number (FN) as a grading factor in the past, but now both groups say they need more information to ensure farmers would be better off before endorsing the change.

“The (Grain and Oilseeds) committee has expressed concern with the lack of analysis on the impacts of adding DON and falling number as grading factors,” KAP says in its brief to the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC). “How often would it result in a grade change and what would the resulting financial impacts be to producers? Therefore, it is wary of supporting this concept until such information is provided.”

At a KAP meeting this spring some members wondered if FN and DON are made grading factors, would it result in more wheat downgrading and lower prices? AWC has similar concerns.

“If you had falling number as a grading factor and you still had the visual sprout damage (as a grading factor) and if the falling number is good, but the visual says there’s sprout damage to the kernel, what are the implications of that?” AWC general manager Tom Steve said in an interview June 21.

Wet harvests in central Alberta and the Peace River district in recent years have seen grain companies testing FN at the elevator and later after wheat has been purchased, Steve said. But farmers don’t know the results or how FN is affecting prices.

“The lack of transparency is a concern to us,” he said.

“But because there are really no rules around it I think that’s where the confusion comes in.”

AWC questions whether FN testing at every elevator is practical. But that might not be necessary, CGC assistant chief commissioner Doug Chorney told KAP’s April 2 advisory council meeting.

One option is for the CGC to make falling number a grading factor with a minimum falling number for each grade, Chorney said.

“That could be an example of the least intrusive approach to this idea,” he said. “So you wouldn’t be expected to test every sample that’s being delivered in that case.”

Then if the farmer didn’t agree with the grain buyer’s assessment he or she could ask the CGC to determine the falling number under its ‘subject to (CGC) inspector’s grade and dockage’ authority.

“You would only be using the test when you had a challenge or dispute,” Chorney said.

Chorney agreed if FN became a grading factor and sprout damage remained one, sometimes sound-looking grain could be downgraded because of a low falling number.

“We think based on the work done by the grain commission and GRL (Grain Research Laboratory) there’s a good basis for scientific-approached grading,” Chorney added.

“We wouldn’t be proposing this if we didn’t think it was a good thing for the industry overall, not just one part of the industry.”

At that same meeting Starbuck farmer Chuck Fossay stressed FN is just one factor affecting wheat quality. A good FN doesn’t automatically mean the wheat is No. 1. Protein content and other quality factors also affect grade, he said.

In 2004 KAP passed a resolution in favour of using falling number to grade wheat. But many farmers assumed FN results would show their wheat had better end-use quality than assessments based on sprout damage.

AWC has made similar requests, and in principle, supports implementing objective tests to replace visual grading where feasible.

“But there are a lot of nuances to consider here,” Steve said.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson is a reporter with the Manitoba Co-operator based near Miami, Man. Covering agriculture since 1980, Dawson has spent most of his career with the Co-operator except for several years with Farmers’ Independent Weekly and before that a Morden-Winkler area radio station.

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