Uniting the value chain

ONTARIO SUB-COMMITTEE HELPS BREEDERS AND FARMERS GROW HIGH QUALITY WHEAT

every good business knows that in order to be successful you need to know what your customer wants; farming is no different. It’s important for farmers to know what type of product – be it wheat, corn or soybeans – their end users want.

The sub-committee on quality of the Ontario Cereal Crops Committee (OCCC) helps breeders, and subsequently farmers, understand what end users require of Ontario wheat.

The OCCC’s role is to advise the Canadian Food Inspection Agency Variety Registration Office as to whether or not cereal varieties should be registered in Ontario. The sub-committee on quality is an important step in this recommendation process. The OCCC is also responsible for conducting the Ontario Cereal Performance Trials every year.

reviewing quality
The sub-committee is tasked with “reviewing the quality of the new varieties of wheat that are being bred and giving breeders feedback on whether those varieties are something that the industry can use based on the quality parameters of our customers,” explains Sheilagh Arney, a representative for ADM and current chair of the sub-committee.

Many end users of Ontario wheat are represented on the sub-committee. Millers  and bakers along with wheat quality experts from the University of Guelph, Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada and the Canadian International Grains Institute sit on the sub-committee. Crosby Devitt, Manager of Research and Innovation with Grain Farmers of Ontario also sits on the committee to ensure farmers’ interests are well represented.

The sub-committee analyzes the characteristics of each wheat variety based on pre-established parameters. “We have a quality parameter set up for each of the classes and that’s what we test for in all the varieties,” says Arney.

Different classes of wheat have different quality parameters based on the end use of the flour. While flour yield and protein levels are important for all classes of wheat, says Arney, soft wheat is focused more on cookie spreads and hard wheat on bread making characteristics. These varying parameters reflect the varying end uses of Ontario wheat. Soft wheat is typically used in cookie and pastry making while hard wheat traditionally is used in bread making.

New varieties stay in the system for two years and are checked against class controls – a benchmark variety that is in commercial production and is known to meet necessary quality parameters. “There is a current, approved variety within each class that is planted in the same plots,” explains Arney.

All testing is conducted on both the new varieties and the class control to “account for weather or environmental issues,” she continues. Both the class control and the new varieties are compared to the pre-established standards and feedback is sent to the breeders on how good the varieties are from an end use perspective.

opening communication
“Drawing the value chain together has opened up communication,” says Arney. Breeders have access to feedback from end-users and can therefore tailor their efforts to the needs of those who buy and use the wheat.

 “Durum is a great example of discussion with industry, breeders and farmers to develop a product that already has a market,” says Arney.

Durum wheat, primarily used as a flour to make pasta is currently exclusively offered by C&M Seeds. It was developed through a partnership with Howson & Howson Mills.

Other than durum, which has relatively small acreage in Ontario, Arney sees spring wheat as the most greatly impacted by the communication between end users and breeders.

“As we move forward and gear the wheat towards what we need locally, in particular spring wheat, then wheat users in Eastern Canada would benefit from using Ontario wheat,” says Arney. “In years past, not many people used Ontario spring wheat because it didn’t have the quality to compete with wheat coming from the west. I’ve seen huge changes to the quality of Ontario wheat in the past ten years,” she concludes.

Arney is optimistic that the wheat coming from Ontario will continue to improve in quality as these lines of communication remain open. •