ARCHIVED - Harvest Science - Issue 2 The grain science and technology newsletter

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Registering varieties explained

Before a new variety of grain such as barley or wheat is registered and commercially grown in Canada, it must be evaluated and tested against standards for agronomy, disease resistance and quality. This evaluation and testing is known as Canada's variety registration system. The system gives producers tried, tested and improved varieties, while protecting Canada's reputation with customers for consistent quality grain.

Balancing the needs of producers and customers

Nancy Edwards, Program Manager for Breadwheat Research, says that Canada's variety registration system works by balancing the needs of both producers and customers.

“Canadian producers have access to varieties that have been evaluated for their performance over several years in different environments across the prairies. Varieties undergo stringent tests for end-use quality. For customers, this means they can be confident that varieties will meet their quality expectations and Canadian grain will perform the way they need it to,” Edwards says.

Expertise and input

Canadian Food Inspection Agency

The Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) is responsible for registering varieties of most agricultural crops in Canada. The agency ensures health and safety requirements are met. It also plays a gatekeeper role for maintaining and improving quality standards for grain in Canada. It relies on the expertise and input from Canada's grain industry to make recommendations on which varieties should be registered.

Prairie Grain Development Committee

That input comes from the Prairie Grain Development Committee. The committee is at the centre of Canada's variety registration system. Its mandate is to act as a forum for the exchange of information related to the development of improved grain varieties for the western Canadian prairies. The committee brings together those with an interest and expertise in one of 3 areas: agronomy, disease resistance and quality. Prairie Grain Development Committee members meet annually to evaluate new varieties being proposed for registration and to recommend, by a vote, varieties for registration by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Canadian Grain Commission

Edwards and other Canadian Grain Commission research and inspection staff lend their expertise to the Prairie Grain Development Committee. They contribute to the quality recommending committees for wheat, rye and triticale; oats and barley; pulses and special crops; and oilseeds. Their role on these recommending committees includes looking for any issues related to grain grading. The Grain Research Laboratory is responsible for the end-use quality testing for new proposed varieties, with the exception of quality testing for oats, which is done by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC).

Process for registering wheat varieties

New varieties of wheat are called wheat lines before they are registered. Once a new wheat line is developed, plant breeders can put it forward for the Prairie Grain Development Committee's co-operative field trials. The co-operative field trials are tests that involve growing general purpose wheat lines for 2 years and milling wheat for 3 years in multiple locations across the prairies. The data collected are evaluated by the Prairie Recommending Committee for Wheat, Rye and Triticale for agronomy, disease and quality and are used to make a decision on whether or not the new wheat line will be supported for registration. General purpose wheat only requires evaluation by the agronomy and disease committees and does not undergo quality evaluation.

Durum in a co-operative field trial.
Wheat field trial
Photo by Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada.

Check varieties

The recommending committees evaluate new wheat lines against check varieties, registered varieties that are used as benchmarks. All new wheat lines must demonstrate equal-to or better performance than the check varieties. Check varieties may vary from year to year.

In the case of new Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) wheat lines, 4 to 5 varieties are used for quality evaluation for a range of quality factors and new wheat lines are compared against the mean of the checks for most tests. In the case of dough strength measurements new wheat lines are compared against the weakest and strongest check varieties. For example, Katepwa, which has weaker dough properties, and Laura, which has stronger dough properties, are currently used as check varieties in the Western Bread Wheat trial to represent lower and upper dough strength limits. A new wheat line in that trial will be evaluated against these 2 for dough strength, and ideally its results will fall somewhere in the middle of this range.

Evaluating agronomy, disease resistance and quality

The recommending committee for agronomy evaluates a new wheat line's performance for factors such as yield, maturity and height. The recommending committee for disease evaluates the wheat line's resistance to diseases such as Fusarium head blight, leaf and stem rust, and midge. The quality evaluation team ensures that new lines meet different wheat class requirements for processing quality. For the Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) class for wheat, new wheat lines are evaluated for test weight, wheat protein, falling number, milling yield, flour ash, baking quality and other factors that are important to customers.

Performing a Hagberg falling number test.
New wheat lines are evaluated for falling number, a test used to detect the activity of the enzyme alpha amylase.

Recommending varieties for registration

In 2011, there were 180 wheat lines evaluated by the Prairie Grain Development Committee. They included lines in each year of evaluation, as well as check varieties. Of these, 15 third-year milling wheat lines, along with 3 general purpose lines and 1 spelt line were recommended for registration to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

Benefits for producers and customers

The evaluation of agronomic characteristics, disease resistance and quality performance assures producers and customers that registered varieties will meet their needs. Edwards says that countries which don't have the same stringent requirements for variety registration, such as the United States, leave it up to producers to determine the right variety for their area and whether or not there is market interest in that variety.

Edwards has also heard directly from customers that the primary reason they buy Canadian grain is because of its consistent quality, from shipment to shipment.

“Customers can see considerable variability among the shipments they buy from other countries, including the United States. Not having a registration system makes it harder to manage quality and can make it challenging for customers to predict how the grain will perform. That's not the case with Canadian grain and it's in large part due to our variety registration system,” she says.

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