‘Grade school’ gives producers hands-on opportunity to learn about grain grading

By Ellen Goodman

Participants take a close look at a grain sample at the grading session in Yorkton.

A number of Alberta and Saskatchewan farmers recently had the opportunity to learn hands-on about how their grain is graded after delivery to their local elevator.

This summer grain grading seminars were held for farmers in Yorkton and Swift Current SK for the first time as a joint effort between the Canadian International Grains Institute, Canadian Grain Commission and Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission (Sask Wheat).

A workshop was also held in Vermilion AB, hosted by the Alberta Wheat Commission. AWC conducted its first grain grading session for farmers in 2015 in Olds AB.

“Organization was done by Cigi and the CGC was invited to conduct the grading demonstrations and brought in samples showing the different grades and degraded wheat,” says Dean Dias, Cigi Director of Value Chain Relations.  “CGC staff were brought in from Weyburn and Saskatoon for Saskatchewan and Calgary for the Alberta workshop.”

The day-long workshop in Vermilion featured mini-sessions on wheat, barley, canola and pulses as a one-stop shop concept, says Tom Steve, AWC General Manager.

“The value of the grain grading seminar was in farmers gaining a better understanding of what they have in their bins to get the best value from the marketplace,” he says.

Dean says that in Saskatchewan, in addition to hands-on grading demonstrations, presentations also provided an update on Sask Wheat and Cigi activities, and the CGC’s wheat class modernization initiative.

Plans for the grain grading workshops have been ongoing for a couple of years, says Dean, adding that more workshops will be held in future. “Producers have been asking a lot of questions about grain grades. The biggest concern has been that at harvest the grain looks great but when they take it to the elevator they aren’t getting the grade they expect.”

Dean explains that the process is not just about the grades but also how the grain affects the milling quality of flour and end-use products, and that a certain amount of damage can cause performance issues. Cigi technical staff from the baking and analytical services areas gave presentations explaining the effects of degrading factors on end-product quality.

John Wozniak, a farmer who is also a director with the Alberta Wheat Commission, says he took the workshop because he wanted to find out why he thought his grain looked better than the grade assigned at the elevator.

“After 32 years of grain farming I never questioned the grading system till last year,” he says. “Now I understand because they look at factors like frost damage, colour, mildew, sprouting – there’s a whole combination of things, like weather patterns that can affect it. You can have light frost (damage) but buyers may not want frost at all because of the way it affects the quality of the dough.”

Glenn Tait, a farmer and director with Sask Wheat, says he also wanted to know more about grain grading and what to look for in his samples.

“We’ve all got a biased opinion of our own grain samples,” Glenn says. “We want to be able to tell what the grading or downgrading factors are so if a sample looks a little rough we know why it can still make a No. 1 or understand if it has quality damage that isn’t immediately evident. We should be trained in what to recognize.”

He says that farmers should also be reminded that they have the option to appeal a decision on the grade of their grain made at the elevator with the CGC.

Randy Dennis, Chief Grain Inspector for Canada, says the workshops provided producers with invaluable information. “The producers will now have a better understanding of how quality is assessed in the grading system, how to recognize and assess individual grading factors, the importance of and manner in which to collect a representative sample of their grain, and knowledge that there is an arbitration method if there is a disagreement on grade, dockage, etc. when they deliver to the primary elevators.

“What tied a lot of this together were Cigi staff explaining the relationship between grading factors and the impact on milling and baking, essentially demonstrating there is sound reasoning why our system operates the way it does.”