Making the Grade: Does your grain have what it takes to hit No. 1?

The word ‘subjective’ comes up a lot — here’s what you need to 
know about main grading factors for canola, wheat, and malt

After a summer of battling drought, insects, and hail, will your grain make the grade this harvest season?

That’s what nearly 100 producers set out to find at a recent workshop hosted by the province’s canola, wheat, and barley commissions.

And what they discovered at the Making the Grade workshop is that small things can have a big impact on the pocketbook.

“It’s very subjective, and it takes trained inspectors sometimes to see some of those slight differences that might move you from a No. 1 to a No. 2,” said Jim Smolik, assistant chief commissioner at the Canadian Grain Commission.

“Being armed with that knowledge is extremely important as a producer is moving forward.”

Read on as three industry experts share their tips on the main grading factors for the most popular crops on the Prairies.

Canola

Dockage is the No. 1 “controversy” in canola grading every fall. And a lot of the problems stem from the different sieves that can be used to clean canola.

“There’s an extreme between an .028 slotted sieve and an .040,” said Judy Elias, operations supervisor at the Canadian Grain Commission.

Dockage is the No. 1 concern for canola growers, and sieves are sometimes the culprit, according to Judy Elias of the CGC.

Dockage is the No. 1 concern for canola growers, and sieves are sometimes the culprit, according to Judy Elias of the CGC.
photo: Jennifer Blair

Using an .028 sieve, “what comes through is broken canola and weed seeds. That’s dockage.” But shaking that same sample through an .040 sieve filters out “a lot more” material that isn’t actually dockage — “but you could be charged for it.”

The size of the sieve that should be used “depends on the condition of the canola,” said Elias.

“Years where we have really dry conditions, you could have really small canola, and when they use an .040 slotted sieve, a lot of your good canola is going to fall through there,” she said. “That could be considered dockage when it really shouldn’t be. It should be in your pocket, not theirs.”

But “none of it is wrong,” because the different sizes of sieves are permitted under the grain commission’s standards.

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“It’s not illegal. A lot of times you’ll go to an elevator and they’ve only got an .040 sieve. They don’t even have an .028.”

Producers need to be aware of what they have in their bin before they go to market it, she said.

“Take it somewhere and find out what the dockage is first. So many producers walk into the elevator and say, ‘What do I have?’ You should know what you have and say instead, ‘What will you give me for this?’” she said.

“It costs $50 to do a sample at the grain commission. But if you’re going to save two per cent on a truckload, $50 is pretty cheap insurance.”

Producers have a right to know what their grade is — and to be paid according to their true grade, she added.

“I realize you make a relationship with elevators, but you only want what you deserve. There’s no fault in finding out which grade is right.”

Wheat

Frost or mildew damage — two of the main factors in wheat grading — provide a challenge of a different sort.

“With frost and mildew, it’s a subjective factor, and we’re trying to make it as objective as we can,” said Bill Adduono, operations supervisor at the Canadian Grain Commission.

“When you’re looking for the base grade and only frost is involved, you can use the frost guide. If there’s only mildew, you can use the mildew guide. As soon as there’s mildew and frost in the sample, then you have to go to the standards.”

Those guides can change. Every year, the grain commission creates ‘standard samples’ to reflect the level of quality that can be expected based on the weather conditions at harvest.

“If there’s more frost in a particular year and less mildew, they’re going to reflect a little more frost and less mildew,” he said.

The samples are evaluated based on whether the damage is ‘light,’ ‘moderate,’ ‘heavy,’ or ‘hard.’

“When you’re going through the frost guides, you’ll look at the wrinkling of the bran and deciding, ‘This is light; this is a little more severe, so it’s moderate.’ The amount of each factor like that determines if it’s a No. 2 or a No. 3,” said Adduono, adding the same theory applies to mildew.

In most cases, it takes the eye of a trained professional to correctly identify the right grade when there are multiple factors at play, he said.

“It should be easy to have a machine do it, but it’s a massive expense to have a machine in every elevator, and there’s subtleties of how much you’re seeing. You have to use some judgment.”

Malt barley

Malt germination is the “single biggest grading factor,” and it needs to be over 95 per cent.

“If it doesn’t grow, it doesn’t do the conversion of starch to sugar,” said Kevin Sich, manager of Rahr Malting’s grain department.

“It’s just a soaked, waterlogged barley kernel that’s dry and brittle as stone — and it tastes like stone. It’s worth nothing.”

And germination levels can drop as barley waits in the bin to be hauled after harvest. Recheck tests are a good way to “protect yourself,” said Sich.

“At Rahr, we don’t ask for recheck samples. If we tell you to haul in February, you can just start hauling,” he said. “But you roll the dice if you do that.

“It’s simpler to do a recheck with your half-ton or send it priority post to us than rolling the B-train down the road at $20 a tonne.”

When doing a recheck, “you can do two wrong things and one good thing,” said Sich.

“The first thing you can do is go get the pre-sample you sent us in the fall out of your basement or your shop and send it to us, and we do a recheck on that,” he said.

“That’s wrong. We’re having problems with guys who are sending in their fall sample thinking that’s what they should do. That sample doesn’t mean anything anymore.”

The second mistake is taking a sample from the manhole.

“Again, that doesn’t mean anything because it’s the bottom of the bin,” said Sich. “Your germination is going to be most unstable in the grain that cools down last, so take it off the top of the bin.

“If you’re going to start doing it at the bottom, I hate to say it, but you’re wasting your time.”

The right way to recheck is take a representative sample from the bin.

“In the wintertime, we’re always saying either take a load out and sample it for your recheck, or take a ladder and probe a couple of feet and send that in for your recheck sample,” said Sich.

“If that sample’s good and grows 98 per cent, chances are the whole bin is fine.”

About the author

Reporter

Jennifer Blair

Jennifer Blair is a Red Deer-based reporter with a post-secondary education in professional writing and nearly 10 years of experience in corporate communications, policy development, and journalism. She's spent half of her career telling stories about an industry she loves for an audience she admires--the farmers who work every day to build a better agriculture industry in Alberta.

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