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Grain commission wheat class process criticized

The Alberta Wheat Commission and Cereals Canada call for more transparency and industry input

Two grain groups are calling for reforms to how the grain industry determines end-use quality standards for milling wheat classes.

Cereals Canada and the Alberta Wheat Commission say the process needs to be more open.

The class system, overseen by the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) and used to protect Can­ada’s reputation for consistent wheat quality and grain-handling efficiency, was revamped three years ago following customer complaints about low gluten strength, a key component in bread making.

Tom Steve.
photo: Allan Dawson

“What we’re asking for is a more inclusive and transparent process, not one agency (CGC) making a decision,” AWC general manager Tom Steve said in an interview April 23.

The impact of class changes on grain farmers needs to be considered too, Cereals Canada president Cam Dahl said in an interview April 26.

“I want to… ensure that when we’re setting what those quality parameters are, we’re developing a clear and transparent process for adjusting or changing the standards and that we have those market considerations taken into account,” said Dahl, a former CGC commissioner.

“I would like to see the grain commission engage in a process of reviewing and reforming the classification system itself.”

Changes announced

Both Steve and Dahl were reacting to the CGC’s April 20 announcement that five wheats in Canada’s top Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) class — AAC Redwater, AC Domain, Muchmore, Vesper and 5605 HR CL — no longer meet quality standards and will move to the lower-paying Canada Northern Hard Red (CNHR) class in 2021.

AAC Redwater is popular with Alberta famers in the Parkland region because it matures four to five days earlier than other varieties but still yields well.

Last fall the AWC and Cereals Canada asked the CGC to do a cost-benefit study before deciding to move the varieties. It didn’t.

  • Read more: Alberta raises concerns about changes to Western Canada’s wheat classes

However, the cost of not moving the five is potential damage to the CWRS class and the benefit is protecting Canadian wheat markets, Remi Gosselin, the CGC’s manager of corporate information services, said in interview April 27.

The announcement at seeding time was badly timed and will cost seed growers money, since the demand for the five varieties will decline, Steve said.

This latest move is part of the CGC’s wheat class modernization plan. Three years ago after consulting the grain industry the CGC announced starting Aug. 1, 2018, CWRS wheats must have stronger gluten strength.

It also changed the end-use standards for the Canada Prairie Spring Red (CPS) class in hopes of gaining more markets and created the new CNHR class. CWRS and CPS wheats that no longer meet the class standard, along with American wheats registered in Canada, including Faller, Prosper and Elgin ND, went into the CNHR class.

In 2015 the CGC also announced as of Aug. 1, 2018, 25 CWRS and four CPS wheats will move to the CNHR class.

Grain companies that purchase any of the 29 transitioning varieties before this Aug. 1 have until Dec. 31, 2018 to move them through the system in their original class, Gosselin said in an interview May 4.

Among the 25 varieties moving from CWRS are Harvest, Lillian and Unity — wheats that had low gluten strength and dominated the class six or seven years ago.

Dahl described the process for setting class end-use standards as “opaque.”

“It’s not only what customers want (for quality), but what customers are willing to pay for and then of course the impacts on farmers,” he said, describing how setting class standards should work.

Higher quality usually translates into lower yields, Dahl said.

Customer driven

The CGC rejects the criticism. Wheat classes were changed to address customers’ complaints and preserve Canada’s reputation and export wheat markets, which is good for farmers, Gosselin said in an interview April 27.

“There was overwhelming support from stakeholders at a time where the consultation occurred — that we needed to take steps to protect the CWRS and CPSR and specifically around quality, consistency and end-use performance,” Gosselin said. “We also know that stakeholders were concerned and asked us to be cautious in terms of potential market implications.”

The CGC’s decision to transfer five more varieties out of the CWRS class followed two years of tests showing they also failed to meet the new CWRS quality standard.

Despite the public record showing Canada’s grain sector was deeply concerned about the gluten strength complaints, Steve isn’t convinced there was an issue.

“I think that the Canadian Grain Commission, in particular, potentially overreacted at the time,” he said. “A decision was made by it, which it calls a consensus, and I think it was not necessarily a happy consensus if you will.

“(I)t was imposed consensus… ”

There are now fewer gluten complaints, and none specifically about the latest five varieties, Steve said.

However, Gosselin noted production of the 25 varieties linked to low gluten three years ago has dropped dramatically, presumably increasing gluten strength in the CWRS class and reducing complaints.

In addition, a dry growing season resulted in excellent wheat quality across the West in 2017.

As for a lack of complaints about specific varieties, most buyers don’t know what varieties they have since it’s usually a blend.

Ongoing issue

The gluten complaints haven’t all disappeared.

“The gluten strength is probably less than before,” Bobby Ariyanot, senior vice-president of manufacturing, Indofood Sukses Makmur, Bogasari in Indonesia told the Canadian Global Crops Symposium is Toronto March 27. “If we compare traditional, using let’s say Canadian 13.5 per cent (protein wheat)… today we must add some gluten or enzymes.”

Both Steve and Dahl say future changes to class quality standards need more industry input.

A transparent and industry-driven process already exists through the Prairie Recommending Committee for Wheat, Rye and Triticale (PRCWRT), Gosselin said.

“Transparency is embedded in the practices of the Prairie recommending committees,” he said, noting membership includes the entire wheat sector from breeders, to farmers, exporters and end-users. “Their meetings are open and the committees use an automated scoring system to approve varieties coming forward. That speaks to the transparency, objectivity and predictability of the process.”

Anyone from the grain industry can seek membership on the committee, which meets annually.

The PRCWRT has the responsibility under the Canada Seeds Act to review new varieties and recommend whether or not they should be registered by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA), a prerequisite for commercial production in Canada.

The committee consists of three teams — agronomy, disease tolerance and end-use quality.

The quality team, which includes CGC representatives, as well as millers and bakers, determines the quality standards for various classes and picks the check varieties new varieties are compared against for quality, Gosselin said.

Once registered it’s the CGC’s job under the Canada Grain Act to place them in a class that fits with their end-use.

Both Steve and Dahl alluded to quality standards getting in the way of developing varieties with improved agronomics, including higher yields.

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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