Canadian Grain Commission
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Canadian wheat

Development of new wheat varieties in Canada

Factors determining wheat quality requirements

The definition of wheat quality is diverse because it varies from region to region, market to market, and company to company. Wheat quality is also continuously evolving in response to changing consumer preference and changing processing technology. Globalization impacts on wheat quality requirements because multi-national companies apply similar quality specifications world-wide. Another factor affecting quality requirements is the influence of other cultures. An example is the emergence in many countries of North American-style fast food chains. To make high quality buns, a strong high protein bakery flour is required. This can open up significant demand for better quality wheat in markets that have traditionally not been quality conscious. In many countries, competition from imported wheat products drives wheat quality shifts.

Throughout the world the wheat industry is deregulating. The collapse of centrally planned economies in eastern Europe caused a general decline in demand for wheat imports, and lowering of quality standards in some countries within that region. Elsewhere deregulation has increased demand for higher quality wheat. Deregulation has had a great impact on wheat quality requirements in Latin America. Free trade agreements necessitated that state-owned buying agencies be disbanded. In general, those agencies purchased wheat with minimal consultation with millers, and assigned wheat to millers on a quota basis. When deregulation occurred millers were faced with true competition. Millers began purchasing wheat independently and paid more attention to wheat quality in order to protect market share.

Wheat processing technology impacts on wheat quality requirements. An obvious example that affects Canada is the diversity of baking processes and formulas in markets that import CWRS wheat. CWRS varieties must perform well in bakeries using short mechanical dough development processes and those using long fermentation processes.

Processing technology advances that become generally accepted can influence wheat quality models quickly and dramatically. An example is the quality model for CWAD (Dexter and Marchylo 1997). An important milestone for international acceptance of CWAD quality was the registration of Hercules in 1969. The gluten strength and pasta color of Hercules was much better than for previously released Canadian durum wheat varieties. The quality of Hercules was a direct response to international demand for durum wheat with stronger gluten and better color. The importance of gluten strength in determining pasta texture became more widely recognized as reliable tests to determine gluten strength and pasta texture became available. Pasta color and appearance became important aesthetic marketing tools for premium pasta because of advances in pasta-making technology. Continuous extrusion under vacuum reduced yellow pigment loss, and the use of TeflonTM inserts in dies greatly improved pasta surface characteristics.

The registration of Hercules induced a rapid increase in CWAD production in Canada due to overwhelming market acceptance. Durum wheat production in Canada rose from less than 500 thousand metric tons in the 1960s to over two million metric tons in the 1970s. Over the past five years durum wheat production in Canada has averaged about five million metric tons. As will be discussed later, the CWAD model is again undergoing review to ensure it continues to meet the demands of current durum wheat milling and pasta-making technology.

The Canadian Wheat Variety Registration Process

Development of improved western Canadian wheat varieties is closely linked to wheat market development. The process begins with onsite evaluation of the wheat processing industry in target markets by experts from the Canadian Wheat Board, Canadian International Grains Institute, Agriculture and Agri-Foods Canada and the Canadian Grain Commission. Dialog with processors identifies the strengths and the weaknesses of Canadian wheat. Information is shared with Canadian wheat breeders to expedite the development of breeding lines with desirable attributes. In response to market feedback, the quality model for a given wheat class may be revised, or new classes may be developed in response to market requirements.

Western Canadian plant breeders are responsible for the testing of breeding lines up to about the F8 generation. The final stage of testing in western Canada is known as the Cooperative Test (C-Test). Promising lines are grown at numerous locations across western Canada to reflect the diversity in environment and soil. There are a range of C-Tests for each class and/or region in western Canada. C-Tests quality evaluation is coordinated by the GRL. Most of the quality testing is performed at the GRL, although the heavy amount of testing requires some collaboration with other institutes.

The lines entered in each C-Tests are evaluated by the Wheat, Rye and Triticale Subcommittee of the Prairie Regional Recommending Committee for Grain (PRRCG). Three teams of experts consider wheat agronomic merit, disease resistance and processing quality, respectively. Lines must exhibit satisfactory performance in all three categories for three consecutive years. All lines being tested for a third year must be supported by all three teams before they can be considered for registration. If the line is promising, and the breeder has the support of the PRRCG, he or she can apply to the Variety Registration Office of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency for registration in western Canada. Once registered, the variety becomes eligible for the milling grades of the class of western Canadian wheat for which it qualifies.

There is a similar process for registration of wheat varieties in eastern Canada. The Eastern Expert Committee on Cereals and Oilseeds assesses the agronomic, disease resistance and quality merit of wheat lines in eastern field trials. If a line has support, then the breeder applies for registration in eastern Canada to the Variety Registration Office of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency.

If a new wheat variety represents a significant quality breakthrough then it undergoes extensive test marketing. New quality types or ‘special’ quality types intended for specific ‘niche’ markets that do not conform to the quality models of existing western Canadian wheat classes may be assigned temporary registration for contract production within the Experimental class during test marketing. In western Canada the Canadian Wheat Board, in cooperation with grain handling companies, uses contract growing programs to expedite seed increase and to encourage production. Quality is evaluated on a laboratory-scale at GRL, and on a pilot-scale at the Canadian International Grains Institute. Small samples are distributed to customers of Canadian wheat for laboratory-scale testing to obtain initial market feedback. As more wheat becomes available larger quantities are shipped to allow pilot-scale commercial testing. If possible, technical experts from Canada accompany the larger shipments to observe the processing, and to exchange technical information.