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

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Garnet an example of quality overlooked

As of August 1, 2013, the Canada Western Red Spring (CWRS) wheat variety Garnet will no longer be eligible for the Canada Western Red Spring class and will only be eligible for feed in both Western and Eastern Canada.

The cancellation of its registration is the final chapter in the long debate over Garnet's quality and value to both producers and customers. Today, Garnet is considered an example of a wheat variety that at the time seemed promising, but in the end fell short of meeting both producers’ and customers’ expectations and needs.

Balancing agronomy, disease resistance and quality

Nancy Edwards, Program Manager for Breadwheat Research at the Grain Research Laboratory, says that the history of Garnet shows that Canada’s variety registration system is effective because it balances the needs of both producers and customers. If agronomy, disease resistance or quality is sacrificed, no one wins.

"Garnet initially met producers' agronomic needs, but fell short in meeting customers’ end-use quality needs. This oversight eventually hurt Canadian producers when the highest grade Garnet was eligible for was reduced to 3 CW and hurt Canada's brand reputation with customers," Edwards says.

Historical image of bread baked with Average No. 2 (left), Garnet (right).
Customer concerns with Garnet included lower baking quality which meant smaller loaf volume and inferior texture.

Good agronomic characteristics

Garnet was developed in Canada by the Department of Agriculture in the early 1920s as a way to address the risks prairie producers faced with early frost and unexpected weather. Garnet was a hard spring wheat line that matured early. It was ready for harvest a full 10 days before other varieties and provided higher yields than the check variety of the time, Marquis.

When Garnet was developed, it was tested for agronomy and disease. At the time of its release, however, it could not be properly evaluated for end-use quality because the Grain Research Laboratory, responsible for quality testing then and today, was temporarily closed.

Inconsistent quality

Garnet performed well in agronomy and disease tests, but it wasn't known how well it would perform when milled into flour. Nevertheless, Garnet was distributed to producers for production in 1925. When the Grain Research Laboratory re-opened in 1927, it did a series of milling and baking tests on it. Based on these tests, the Grain Research Laboratory concluded that Garnet did not offer the same end-use quality as Marquis. Garnet's flour colour was not as white as Marquis, which meant that millers would need to bleach flour made from it. Garnet also posed other difficulties for processors, for example, the hardness of its kernels made it harder to mill without soaking them first.

Unhappy customers

Customers immediately noticed the difference. Millers in the United Kingdom, Canada's main buyer of wheat at the time, found an inconsistency in the quality of the wheat they were buying from Canada. Customer concerns reached a peak in 1928 when the Secretary of the Liverpool Corn Trade Association wrote a letter to Prime Minister Mackenzie King to complain about the declining quality of Canadian export wheat.

Low grades

Despite good yields and early maturity, customers weren't willing to buy Garnet because it didn't offer the level of quality they needed to make their end-use products. Because it was not acceptable to customers, Garnet's grade eligibility was reduced first to a number 2 grade and then to a number 3 in 1935. As a result, most producers stopped growing it.

Importance of quality testing

The Garnet issue illustrates the importance of quality testing in the development of new wheat varieties. New wheat lines undergo 3 years of evaluation for their agronomy, disease resistance and end-use quality before being recommended for registration. Any new line must demonstrate it is equal to or better than existing varieties; otherwise it isn't registered. This approach protects both customer needs and ensures a long-term market for Canadian producers.

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