Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Wheat quality is slipping

The bread-making quality of hard red spring wheat grown on the Canadian prairies is slipping.

Officials have known about it for four or five years because overseas customers have been complaining.

Now Manitoba Cooperator is reporting that Canada Bread is not happy. Vice-president Connie Morrison said the company spent $1 million last year buying gluten to supplement Prairie-grown wheat flour so it could get the desired rise in bread loaves.

Gluten gives bread-making flour strength to stretch and hold air so loaves rise high, the bread has air pockets and is fluffy.

It’s the high protein content of Prairie-grown hard red spring wheats that provides the gluten. Canada has long had a high standard for licencing new varieties so it can maintain high protein content, but that often comes at the expense of higher yields.

Farmers across the border in the United States grow higher-yielding, lower-protein wheat varieties and there has been widespread speculation that Canadian farmers have been planting some of those varieties.

The kernels looks similar enough to slip into the marketing stream. Proteiin also tends to be high when growing conditions are dry; that’s not always been the case in recent years.

Canada Bread was bought by Bimbo Bakery of Mexico last year and Morrison said the company’s bakeries in Mexico have also experienced gluten shortages with Canadian wheat.

She said Canadian quality has become “inconsistent”.

The Manitoba Reporter article says some believe that has happened since the Canadian Wheat Board lost its monopoly over export sales. Now global grain-trading companies handle exports.

Some also speculate that the concentration of marketing in the hands of fewer companies has reduced blending of wheat harvested from different regions and varieties to achieve acceptable quality.

Morrison said Canada Bread is looking forward to changes to Western Canada’s wheat class system starting Aug. 1, 2018, which will see lower gluten wheats removed from the premium milling Canada Western Red Spring wheat class and to a new class called Canada Northern Hard Red.