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Hard white spring wheat heading east

Feasibility depends on millers and producers.

 


February 21, 2009
By Treena Hein

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Almost all of the spring wheat crop in Ontario consists of hard red. Flour mills in eastern Canada that use hard white spring wheat have been sourcing it from western Canada, a proposition that becomes more costly every day due to rising fuel costs.


If, however, tests in Ontario during the next couple of years show hard white spring wheat to be feasible for both producers and millers, this crop could be grown in Ontario on a small scale.


Peter Johnson, the cereals specialist with the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture, Food and Rural Affairs, says hard white spring wheat is similar to hard red in most respects, but gives an increased yield of flour, a plus for milling companies. “You don’t need to mill off anything past the bran because the colour of the bran is not an issue,” says Johnson. “The white bran also means it works well for whole wheat products as the bran won’t discolour the flour. In addition, the taste of white bran is less bitter.”

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Besides being better suited for whole grain food products, which become more popular by the day, hard white spring wheat is also well-suited to the production of Asian-style noodles and other similar “ethnic” foods. 

Performance trials 
Parrish & Heinbecker (P&H) coordinated a small program with SeCan during the 2008 season to see if hard white spring wheat and some other new varieties can be grown in eastern Canada and whether they have the desired characteristics for milling. “Western wheat is getting pricey,” says Harvey Wernham, manager of P&H Brand Seeds. Four different farmers grew three hundred acres of AC Snowstar in different areas of Ontario. A hard white spring wheat variety, AC Snowstar was developed at Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada-Winnipeg by Dr. Gavin Humphreys and released to SeCan in early 2006. Phil Bailey, SeCan’s eastern territory manager, says hard white spring wheat varieties have been introduced in the past but were never able to compete agronomically.


Bailey considers AC Snowstar, however, a “very competitive” variety, with a demonstrated yield index of 103 percent in Area 2 (southwestern and central Ontario) in 2007 performance trials (see www.gocereals.ca). “This is quite interesting,” he says, “because in the past any hard white spring wheats introduced in the east usually yielded significantly lower than other hard red spring wheat varieties.”


Analysis of the 2008 trials has reflected this year’s unusually wet weather, says Wernham, with some high DON levels and some acceptable levels as well. Bailey says. “AC Snowstar is certainly still susceptible, but would be considered one of the better varieties when it comes to fusarium tolerance for a white wheat.”


Johnson adds “Every variety is different, but one of the concerns is that in general, white wheats as a class have higher DON concentrations than reds. The reds have phenols that give the red colouration and provide some fungicidal activity, which results in a lower concentration of toxin in the grain than the whites.” He says that because of this, the maximum amount of fusarium in red wheats in eastern Canada is 1.5 percent, but it is one percent for whites, to maintain the grain below 2 ppm of DON concentration for both types of grain.

Next season – and beyond
Mill run testing to determine how this variety can be used, as a whole grain or whole grain blend, will be complete by early 2009. “Plans for next year hinge on the mill tests,” says Wernham, “and we have to determine from a grower perspective if agronomically it makes sense to grow it in comparison to other spring seeded crops.” He adds “We want to examine data over a two- to three-year period. If it’s feasible at that point for the grower and acceptable to the milling industry, we would contract growers, and give them recommendations for plant population, fertilizer and fungicide.”


Johnson says that, in terms of the long-term future for hard white spring wheat, “I see that the focus on health consciousness is going to continue to increase, especially with the aging population, and whole grains are certainly one of the things that health professionals point to as having increased health benefits. The desire for exotic foods such as Asian noodles is also growing, and I think the willingness of consumers to pay a little bit more for these products will also grow.”


“Will that mean the hard white market in Ontario will develop?” Johnson asks. “That’s an interesting question. I hope it does, as it offers some great opportunities for Ontario wheat growers, millers and food processors. If companies want to develop something unique and focus on the premium food market in Asian noodles and whole grain foods, there’s growing demand there. Overall, there’s some real potential, but it’s far from being a done deal.”