Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Customer complaints about wheat a red flag

  • Print

On one hand, an international wire service story saying customers aren't happy with how Canadian wheat is baking up is bad news for this country's wheat-export industry.

On the other, the industry can take comfort in the fact a customer complaint about Canadian wheat quality is rare enough that it becomes news in the same vein as a "man-bites-dog" scenario.

But the Reuters news story, based on comments by industry officials at the recent Canada Grains Council meeting, coincides with some industry-wide soul-searching about how best to maintain Canada's reputation for selling quality wheat.

Some, including federal Agriculture Minister Gerry Ritz, are pushing for changes that would loosen the parameters for determining which varieties should be grown in Canada, in the hope of attracting private-sector investment in wheat breeding and giving farmers quicker access to new, higher-yielding varieties.

Others, including Canada's millers, the Canadian Grain Commission, exporters and major farm groups counter that any yield gains might be moot if Canada's reputation for consistent quality is destroyed in the process. They argue Canada should be more focused on maintaining its disciplined approach to assessing the merit of new varieties.

After all, Canadian producers are farther away from major markets than most of their competitors. They also have a shorter, cooler growing season.

In the midst of this debate, China's state-owned agricultural buying agency (COFCO) and some European buyers are saying flour made from Canada's flagship Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) wheat in recent years hasn't been as reliable in their bread-baking processes. Their concerns centre on gluten strength, a function of protein quality, which helps bread rise and keep its shape during baking.

Earl Geddes, the chief executive officer of the Canadian International Grains Institute, which offers training and technical expertise to export customers buying Canadian grains, pulses and oilseeds, said in an interview the technical problems customers are experiencing are easily managed with advice on how to tweak their processes.

What needs to be determined, however, is what's causing these inconsistencies. Canada has traditionally staked its reputation for quality not just on supplying high-protein wheat, but on supplying wheat that performs consistently in baking processes shipload after shipload, year after year.

Delivering on that promise is no small feat, given there are 74 varieties of wheat in the CWRS class, and they're grown in a host of different microclimates across the Prairies. Before those varieties were approved for registration, which makes them legal to grow and deliver in the CWRS class, they underwent three years of trials to determine whether their quality characteristics fit the narrow parameters of the class, whether they were susceptible to common diseases and how well they performed for the farmer.

The proposed changes would allow any variety to be registered. Quality testing would occur after the fact and only to determine where it fits in the classification system. Disease resistance and agronomic performance testing would be voluntary.

Wheat quality, particularly protein and gluten strength, are functions of many factors, including the variety, soil conditions, how much fertilizer farmers use and the weather.

"Any action we take becomes important to our brand equity," Geddes said, noting that is especially true when customers are adjusting to dealing with buyers besides the Canadian Wheat Board.

How Canada manages the registration of new varieties going forward needs to be viewed in that context.

Laura Rance is editor of the Manitoba Co-operator. She can be reached at 204-792-4382 or by email: laura@fbcpublishing.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 13, 2013 B7

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

J.P. Vigier’s Whiteboard: Coach Maurice’s first full season

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • Young goslings jostle for position to take a drink from a puddle in Brookside Cemetery Thursday morning- Day 23– June 14, 2012   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)
  • Susan and Gary Harrisonwalk their dog Emma on a peaceful foggy morning in Assiniboine Park – Standup photo– November 27, 2011   (JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS)

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

Do you support Canada's involvement in the fight against Islamic State?

View Results

View Related Story

Ads by Google