Wheat progress lagging in Canada, but not much better in U.S.

Manitoba’s average spring wheat yield is slightly higher than 
North Dakota’s, says MAFRI’s Pam de Rocquigny

Spring wheat yields, on average, are slightly higher in Manitoba than North Dakota, even though the perception is it’s the other way around, Manitoba Agriculture, Food and Rural Initiative’s cereal specialist Pam de Rocquigny told the Manitoba Agronomists Conference Dec. 12 at the University of Manitoba.

Manitoba’s 10-year-average wheat yield (2003-12) is 45 bushels an acre compared to 40 in North Dakota.

There’s increased interest in American wheats and lots of talk about modifying Western Canada’s wheat variety registration system to better accommodate them following the removal of the Canadian Wheat Board’s monopoly, she said. But in the meantime Canadian regulations still apply. That means unregistered wheat varieties receive the lowest grade in the class of wheat they are being delivered into. In the case of the Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) class that’s feed.

“There would be nothing worse than to grow a variety and then to find out it’s either not registered or you can’t deliver it, or if you can that it’s only eligible for the lowest grade therefore impacting the price you get for it,” she said.

“However, nothing prevents a producer and a Canadian grain company from negotiating a contract based on quality specifications outside of the statutory grading system for the delivered grain, regardless of the variety.”

Crop insurance is another consideration. Varieties outside the major western wheat classes are insured as feed by the Manitoba Agricultural Services Corporation. There’s no grade guarantee and the insured value is lower, de Rocquigny said.

Farmers who want to grow unregistered American wheats should negotiate sales with a grain buyer before they seed, she said. Selling to an American elevator is another option, but farmers should investigate the paperwork before delivering to the U.S.

Canadian milling wheat is famous for its quality partly because the registration system requires new varieties meet certain end-use specification before being registered. It ensures customers get a consistent product. It also often means American varieties are rejected because their milling characteristics are different.

One solution being considered is maintaining the standards for the CWRS and Canada Western Amber durum classes, but expanding them in the Canada Prairie Spring class so more American wheats could qualify.

The proposal will likely be discussed next month at the annual Prairie Grain Development Committee meeting in Saskatoon.

While western Canadian wheat is famous for its milling quality, it’s infamous for having the lowest annual average yield increase in the world at just 0.7 per cent. A Manitoba study shows a one per cent-a-year rise in this province, de Rocquigny said.

However, the average increase in American wheat yields is the second lowest in the world.

Between 1961 and 2007 the average annual rate of gain for Canadian wheat was 23 kilograms per hectare versus 24 in the U.S.

The United Kingdom topped the list at 108 kilograms per hectare. Poorer countries, including Turkey, India and China had higher gains.

So is Western Canada’s wheat registration system the bottleneck?

“I wouldn’t say so, but at the same time there are people saying there could be an increase in efficiency,” de Rocquigny said.

“I think what’s more hampering innovation is the need to have more effective intellectual protection of property. If somebody is going to invest in a variety it’s important for them to be able to capture a return on investment. In spring wheat you see a large amount of farmer-saved seed.”

The most popular spring wheats in Manitoba and North Dakota now were developed by publicly funded researchers — Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC) and North Dakota State University, de Rocquigny said.

Public wheat varieties dominate the North Dakota market even though North Dakota doesn’t have a merit-based registration system, and never had kernel visual distinguishability or a wheat board.

In 2012, 70 per cent of Manitoba’s spring wheat acres were varieties developed by public researchers — 64 per cent AAFC (44 and 21 per cent Winnipeg and Swift Current stations, respectively) and five per cent from the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre.

In 2000, 95 per cent of new wheats in Australia came from public researchers, but in 2012 all of the wheats were from private companies, de Rocquigny said. (However, those companies are partnered with Australian farmers who help fund them, University of Saskatchewan agricultural economist Richard Gray noted at another meeting late last year.)

When considering which wheats to grow, including American ones, farmers need to consider more than just yield, de Rocquigny said. Other factors include maturity, disease, insect and lodging resistance and markets.

About the author

Reporter

Allan Dawson

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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