Grain Industry Looks for Falling Numbers Solutions

Washington grain industry representatives are exploring ways to deal with wheat that has low falling numbers, including asking federal government food aid programs to buy it and donate it to impoverished nations.

They also say a more accurate and faster test needs to be developed.

Roughly 37 to 39 percent of this year’s Washington soft white wheat crop has a falling number below 300, said Don Potts, regional manager of the Washington State Department of Agriculture grain inspection program. The average for the crop is about 310.

“In Eastern Washington, I think every location got hit,” Potts said. “There’s pockets that are worse than others, certainly, but the temperature extreme hit everyone at some point in time. Every grain elevator has now experienced some issues with low falling numbers.”

Grain elevators use the Hagberg-Perten falling number test to measure starch damage due to sprouting. A low falling number indicates a high level of alpha amylase, an enzyme that degrades starch and diminishes the quality of wheat. Grain with a falling number below 300 typically receives a discount in the Pacific Northwest. Rain and temperature fluctuations are the primary cause.

Asking the government to purchase the wheat was one short-term solution mentioned during an industry meeting with Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers at McGregor Co. headquarters.

“There’s a lot of customers that can use this kind of wheat, because they’re just making flatbreads and different breads, so the quality is still good, just not to make sponge cakes and things like that,” said Damon Filan, industry representative on the Washington Grain Commission and manager of Tri-Cities Grain.

A tender from the U.S. government would help get rid of the wheat. The U.S. government could donate the wheat to impoverished Third World countries.

Food aid programs have bought wheat in the past, but that doesn’t happen often, said Glen Squires, CEO of the commission.

“One of the challenges is there’s an effort nationally to just give money to countries and let them buy the wheat from a closer source,” Squires said. “We believe there should be food in food aid.”

Many overseas buyers require a falling number above 300, Squire said, but some might be convinced to reduce their requirements.

Judy Olson, state director of the USDA Farm Service Agency, said current insurance programs are set up to address yield more than quality issues.

A disaster designation would not be much help, Olson said. The agency would have access to a “small amount” of emergency loans for individual producers.

“That’s probably not going to meet the industry needs as a whole,” Olson said. “It would be difficult to meet the bar of 30 percent economic loss for a county or a region, especially with the high yields I understand that we’ve had.”

Longer term, they all agreed a better test would help. The current test has wide variability, with some growers reporting differences of more than 50 seconds when retests are taken.

McMorris Rodgers called the meeting “a first step” toward identifying short- and long-term options.

“Certainly the 2018 Farm Bill will be very important, how we address crop insurance as well as the potential for disaster-type programs,” she said. “Another long-term (solution) is … the importance of an accurate test. Clearly these disparities raise a lot of questions about the test itself.”

Source: Capital Press

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