Beverly Stow worries about the huge financial liability farmers could face if they accidentally deliver wheat to the wrong class at the elevator now that KVD (kernel visual distinguishability) is gone.
The Graysville-area farmer raised the issue here last month during a Canadian Wheat Board (CWB) meeting. She pointed out that under C-13, the bill to amend the Canada Grain Act, penalties for contravening the act will rise more than fivefold.
Progress is being made on a driveway test to cheaply and accurately identify wheat varieties, Earl Geddes, the CWB’s manager of farmer service, said in response. Less encouraging, however, is that some of the processes used to bridge the gap, are not infallible.
KVD required that any new wheat look like others in its class so it could be simply segregated in classes from a farmer’s granary to a flour mill, helping to ensure the quality and consistency for which Canadian wheat is famous.
Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz scrapped KVD last year, despite an industry consensus to phase it out by 2010. Now farmers must declare they are delivering wheat that fits the class and could be sued for the damage caused if they don’t.
The federal government is also considering fines for farmers who misrepresent grain deliveries. (See related story, page 20.)
Two approaches to developing a wheat variety test are being pursued, Geddes said. Through the CWB, farmers have invested $2.6 million so far. “We’re reasonably confident this is going to work because of you guys investing in it,” Geddes said.
One is a DNA laboratory test being developed through the Saskatchewan Research Council. It’s expected to be ready by the fall of 2010.
The other system being developed by NeoVentures will be faster and test wheat as it arrives at elevators. It uses aptamer technology. Aptamers are nucleic acid species that can be engineered to bind to certain molecular targets aiding in their identification.
But until they’re in place, farmers are vulnerable. Even growing certified seed, which provides a lot more varietal assurance than common seed, is not 100 per cent foolproof, Geddes said.
Two years ago, 18 farmers purchased a certified variety of Canada Western Red Spring wheat but it was in fact a Canada Western Hard White wheat.
“We ended up with hundreds of thousands of bushels of grain that we had to do some very creative things with to get it into the marketplace without the farmers losing their shirts,” he said.
Normally wheat delivered to the wrong class is downgraded to lower-priced feed.
In another case, farmers bought certified Avonlea durum wheat seed but it was Medora durum seed.
No human process can guarantee perfection, including Canada’s pedigreed seed system, but it offers better identification assurances to farmers than common seed, said Dale Adolphe, executive director of the Canadian Seed Growers Association.
“The whole pedigreed seed system is a production process that involves previous land use requirements, isolation requirements, germination and purity testing and it’s a system that’s 105 years old,” he said in an interview. “It’s the best guarantee that’s out there.”
The absence of KVD makes purchasing certified seed more attractive to lawsuit-wary farmers. But seed growers will be under more scrutiny when a mix-up occurs, Adolphe said.
A recent pilot project studying contract registration and a “closed loop” handling system as a way to market wheats that don’t fit the class system showed it’s impossible to prevent some leakage into the main grain handling pipeline, Brian Marchylo, the Canadian Grain Commission’s durum program manager and senior adviser to the Grain Research Laboratory director told a meeting in Banff last month.
“There were multiple (escape) events that we were able to detect through the course of the program and everyone was trying really hard to make sure this thing really worked,” he said. “It was a very carefully managed and monitored program and there was relatively small production.”
Viterra’s 5400IP wheat is grown under a contract registration for the British Baker Warburtons. The variety barely failed to meet the standards required to be in the Canada Western Red Spring wheat class. Because Warburtons pays a premium for 5400IP there’s no incentive for growers to misrepresent it. Nevertheless, in 2006-07 the CGC found 5400IP had leaked into the regular system three times, even though only 19,842 tonnes had been produced and shipped in just 220 rail cars.
Last year, and so far this crop year, five leaks were discovered.
The project shows contract registration has the potential to be used to handle niche wheats, but there are risks, Marchylo said.
“At the end of the day the system has to decide how much risk are we willing to accept,” he said. [email protected]