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Revitalization of Wheat Research Expected

by 5m Editor
26 July 2008, at 7:41am

CANADA - Western Canadian livestock producers are counting on two key changes to the registration requirements for western Canadian wheat to revitalize efforts to develop wheat varieties suited specifically for their industry.

Effective August 1, 2008 kernel visual distinguishability (KVD) will be removed as a registration criterion for all eight western Canadian classes of wheat and it will no longer be used as a grading tool. As well a new Canada Western General Purpose class will be introduced.

KVD is a visual assessment that allows grain inspectors to easily identify the class of grain when it arrives at the elevator. Under KVD lines that resemble one classification but do not have the quality characteristics required for that classification may not be registered. The requirement was intended allow visual identification of milling varieties at the elevator and reduce the risk of less desirable grain that looked similar getting mixed in.

Elimination of KVD Applauded by Pork Producers

“It's something we have been asking for an awful long time,” says Neil Ketilson, the general manager of the Saskatchewan Pork Development Board (Sask Pork).

The distinguishability issue has really hampered the development of new feed grains so from the livestock producer's perspective this is good news and is long overdue.

Canadian International Grains Institute director of bio-fuels and feed Dr. Rex Newkirk explains, “If it doesn't have the look of the class you're trying to develop, you're not allowed to use that particular germ plasm.”

He points out advances take time and additional constraint adds to the challenge. If you have additional criterion on what the kernel looks like, it means some stock that might be interesting to farmers is abandoned even though it may have some unique characteristics.

High Yields Top Priority for Hog Producers

“The first thing we're looking for is to get some high yields, to get some bushels there,” says Manitoba Pork Council chairman Karl Kynoch.

“I know in the ethanol industry they're looking for starch and you always hear about the livestock industry looking for protein. But we can add canola meal, we can add soy meal to adjust that protein so we need to get some volume.”

“In the case of livestock,” Dr. Newkirk observes, “I think the primary characteristics that they'll be looking for is high yielding and disease resistance and then, within that, see if they can make some further improvements on starch.”

General Purpose Class Tailored for Livestock and Industrial Users

Equally significant is the creation of the Canada Western General Purpose class.

“Right now in the breeding program, the wheat you're developing must fit within the current eight classes,” Dr. Newkirk explains.

If a line is to be become a hard red it has to have certain baking properties, if it's going to be CPS it has to have certain properties. Lines that don't fit one of those classes can't be developed and there wasn't a class for wheat suited specifically for livestock or ethanol production. This general purpose class allows breeders to enter lines that would not fit the traditional requirements for quality as far as baking goes but which might be very interesting to livestock and ethanol production.

Considering the high cost of feed and the high cost of transporting that feed, the change is especially welcome.

“Right now we're bringing a lot grain in from the south,” Kynoch points out.

There's a lot of corn coming in from the U.S. and, with the price of fuel, that adds a lot of cost to raising a hog. What we need is to allow producers to increase the yields on their own farms and in turn be able to feed more hogs with an acre of grain lowering their costs and increasing their net incomes.

Higher Yielding Varieties Expected to Impact Feed Cost Advantage

Ketilson adds, “We know that the research community has a number of different varieties of wheats that are much higher yielding than the ones that are presently licensed. We would anticipate that we're going to get more and better varieties, higher yielding which will make us way more competitive given the situation on the feed grain side as well as in terms of the demand for ethanol based grains.”

Newkirk suggests, in Canada, wheat's biggest competitor is barley while, in the United States, it's corn.

“Barley is a very productive crop and does very well and is very desired in the livestock feed.”

He believes in western Canada farmers will have to decide, based on available varieties, whether barley will yield them more and provide more income or if wheat will better meet their needs.

Newkirk says, in the case of imported feed, the main competitor is U.S. corn.

“Right now, because of the high price of wheat, we're seeing a lot of corn coming into Canada so for those lines to compete they'd have to be able to compete with corn on the nutritional aspects as well as on the economic side. So it has to be something that can yield high enough so it can compete with corn value wise.”

U.S. Corn offers Stiff Competition

Ketilson believes the issue revolves, in part, around how well we have been able to, in Canada, stay abreast of the yield advantages and the yield increases that have been found in other parts of the world. “If you look, for example, at corn in the United States the average yield there has increased significantly over the last 10 to 15 years because of variety improvements. The KVD issue in Canada has really hamstrung the researchers and the ability to get licensed varieties of wheat into the hands of farmers so that we can increase that yield on a per acre basis and be more competitive with the yield increases in the United States. In terms of our competitive advantage, if you can grow 75 bushels of wheat compared to the old varieties at 50, that just means the grain farmers are better off. We have more feed grain available to us which should be cheaper for the livestock industry but also enable to the grain farmers to make more money. It's a win win for both.”

Kynoch notes corn coming in from the U.S. did get as high as eight dollars a bushel.

“It was pushing the break even margins up very high on the hogs and producers were starting to hit heavier losses again. The corn prices have dropped back a little bit but still there's a lot of nervousness in the industry of where these feed prices are going to go. So, if we can bring these yields up quite a bit, that's definitely going to reduce those costs.”

Yield Improvements Expected to Take Time

Newkirk cautions, “I do think people need to be aware that we're not going to see changes overnight. The breeding programs take time so it takes several years for stuff to come out. I don't anticipate we'll see significant changes in the next year or two but hopefully maybe three, four years down the line we'll see stuff that's been in the waiting.”

Kynoch agrees. “I think a lot of people hadn't been expecting to get this kind of freedom to be able grow the higher yielding grains so it's going to take a little bit of time for the breeders to finalize some of that research and get it moving forward.”

He stresses, “For us in the hog industry, we need those higher yields right now but I would expect it'll take two or three years to see some of the significant increases that we're hoping to see.”

5m Editor