Now that they’ve achieved their goal of ending the Canadian Wheat Board monopoly, the Western Canadian Wheat Growers are training their sights on their next target — the Canadian wheat registration system.
In a recent advertisement the WCWGA says farmers should have access to higher-yielding varieties to meet the demand for mid-quality or feed/ethanol markets, and calls for more “flexibility” in the system.
That will appeal to the farmers hoping to add some of those famously higher-yielding U.S. wheats to their shopping basket on their next trip to North Dakota. But are they, as one farmer at a KAP meeting said a few years ago, famous like a Sasquatch? Everyone has heard of them, but no one has ever seen one.
A Canadian Grain Commission scientist says if there’s data showing U.S. varieties outyield Canadian, he hasn’t seen it. Moreover, David Hatcher warns that tinkering with the system could cost farmers.
“We need to make informed choices and decisions,” Hatcher told a June 14 webinar organized by the Farm Leadership Council. “The key operative word there is informed.”
Hatcher said the current system ensures customers get what they want, giving Canadian farmers an edge in competitive world markets.
“We find ourselves in many cases at a freight disadvantage. Our key attribute we bring to the marketplace is our quality, so we do not want to change that.”
American wheats can be grown in Western Canada, but if unregistered receive the lowest grade in the class. However, they can be registered if they successfully go through the three-year testing process, Hatcher noted. Glenn, a milling wheat from North Dakota, is one example eligible for Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) class.
Yield versus protein
Manitoba crop insurance data shows CWRS yields at 44.8 bushels for the past five years, six bushels or 15 per cent higher than hard red spring yields reported by the North Dakota Wheat Commission.
In a 2005 paper, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada determined American wheats, on average, yielded 1.83 bushels an acre or 3.7 per cent more than Canadian wheats based on yields from 1995 to 2004. However, Canadian hard red spring wheats averaged 0.417 per cent higher in protein.
“Given the well-known inverse relationship between protein content and yield, the results suggest that the U.S. yield advantage is offset by the Canadian protein advantage,” the paper said.
Canada has tested many American hard red spring milling wheats but often found they had higher gluten strength than Canadian varieties, Hatcher said.
“If we start bringing in lines that have such great strength this is going to cause great problems for our customers,” he said.
Hatcher said a Malaysian baking company that buys Canadian wheat produces 87,000 loaves of bread an hour. “In that type of operation consistency is key,” he added.
“Without quality and consistency you’re limited to only one sale. For us in Canada it is important to have a thriving and growing industry that meets the needs of our producers and our grain industry as a whole.”
Hatcher also questioned the need to register more varieties annually, noting in the last three years 12 new cultivars were registered for the CWRS class, as well as four in the Canada Prairie Spring (CPS) class and five each in the Canada Western Red Winter and Canada Western Amber durum classes.
The CPS class offers farmers a 25 per cent yield advantage over CWRS, but the milling and baking quality is lower. (see sidebar)
Cost versus value
Normally a new wheat is field tested for three years before being submitted for registration. Shortening it to two years could result in failing to see a potential weakness in a variety due to certain weather conditions, Hatcher said.
The American wheat registration is faster and cheaper because there’s less testing. However, it ends up costing more than Canada’s system because U.S. exporters and end-users must do more testing to ensure quality control, he said.
The current system has challenges, Hatcher said. They include running out of testing capacity, which could be solved with additional funding.
There’s some confusion about wheat quality control after the wheat board’s mandate changes Aug. 1, Hatcher said.
“It is very important that you realize that there’s not going to be any change to who ensures quality,” he said. “The Canadian Grain Commission has always been and will continue to be responsible for grain quality.”
varieties how they are registered
• New wheats require 24 station-years of data, which takes at least two and usually three years of testing in co-op trials before being put forward for registration.
• The Prairie Grain Development Committee’s wheat, rye and triticale committee oversees the process.
• Three expert committees of 25 members each assess whether a new variety meets the agronomic, disease and end-use standards of its class. Each committee, made up of experts in their area of assessment, meets separately and votes on whether a new wheat meets the standards.
• The three committees then meet, review all the data, and vote by secret ballot on whether a variety should be recommended for registration. No committee has a veto.
Other classes have yet to live up to yield promise
It’s not as if farmers looking for higher wheat yield don’t have options other than CWRS. In fact, Western Canada has nine classes of wheat, including the new General Purpose class for wheats to be fed to livestock or processed to make ethanol. General purpose wheats aren’t assessed for milling quality.
However, while winter wheat has been a clear winner in Manitoba, other classes and varieties designed for higher yield have been slow to catch on.
Manitoba Canada Prairie Spring (CPS) yields over the past five years have averaged 4.2 bushels an acre or nine per cent better than CWRS, and only one bushel better last year, not enough to offset the price discount.
Last year there were just 2,500 acres of CPS harvested here, versus 1.7 million acres of CWRS. CPS wheats grown in Manitoba are more susceptible to disease.
Canada PrairieSpring Red (CPSR)
Canada Prairie Spring White (CPSW)
Canada Western Amber durum (CWAD)
Canada Western Extra Strong (CWES)
Canada Western Hard White Spring (CWHWS)
Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS)
Canada Western Red Winter (CWRW)
Canada Western Soft White Spring (CWSWS)