Four ways to avoid low falling numbers in grains

How accurate is the falling number test?

The falling numbers test estimates the amount of sprouting in wheat, barley or rye. It measures the amount of alpha-amylase, an enzyme important in germination, which is present in the grain.

1. Harvest as soon as possible

Try and harvest wheat as soon as possible after maturity. The longer it stays in the field once mature, the higher the risk of sprouting if it rains. On the other hand, don’t harvest too early — green kernels can have high alpha-amylase content to provide fuel for grain development. If the wheat has been rained on, wait for it to dry to avoid germination during storage.

“I know some growers who said if they had known how wet it was going to be they would have started to harvest their wheat earlier, even at a higher moisture content, and would have dried it down to get ahead of the poor weather, but nobody knew how bad it was going to be,” says Rejean Picard, Manitoba Agriculture farm production adviser. “But it’s something that may be an option. As soon as it’s below 30 per cent moisture, producers might consider harvesting earlier than normal and dry the grain if they have the capability to do it. It doesn’t take as much energy and is not as costly to dry grain in August and September versus October and November. Harvesting the crop early when it is mature enough to be harvested is another tool in the box to be ahead of that curve.”

2. Try straight-cutting

Swathed wheat is much more susceptible to severe sprouting than a standing crop, so if farmers straight cut their wheat they will reduce the risk, says Picard.

3. Choose varieties carefully

Consult provincial seed guides and choose cultivars that have good or at least fair pre-harvest sprouting resist- ance.

4. Blend carefully

Be cautious about attempting to mix or blend sprouted grain with non-sprouted grain — blending may not improve the overall falling number. For example, mixing a 200-second grain with a 400-second grain will result in a falling number well below 300 for the whole lot.

Picard says the decision about blending basically depends on the proportion of sprouted grain in the wheat. If only a small proportion of grain is sprouted it might be possible to blend it with the much larger proportion that is sound. “But, they don’t want to bring down the grade, they want to bring up the grade,” says Picard. “Another option is that some producers have the capacity to clean out some of the grain that is sprouted and sell that as feed, and if the greater proportion has been cleaned up, they might be able to get a better falling number. But depending on the propor- tion of sprouting a farmer has he may or may not have that ability.”

How accurate is the falling number test?

On November 22, 2019, the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) published feedback it received from a 60-day consultation process with industry stakeholders about whether falling numbers and DON should be included as official grading factors.

The CGC received 29 written sub- missions and held four teleconference calls, receiving comments mainly from producer and commodity groups and industry associations, that expressed concerns about the reliability, cost and efficiency of these tests

In its summary of the feedback, CGC stated on its website: ‘While the accuracy of analytical tests such as those used to assess falling number and DON may be better than that of visual inspection for some quality factors, we clearly heard that other considerations, such as impacts on efficiency at delivery, impacts on
the overall efficiency of the grain- handling system and if costs will be transferred to producers, need to
be understood before further steps are taken to add falling number or DON as official grading factors. Any

broad-based changes must balance the desire to make the grain-grading system more accurate and objective with the associated costs and impli- cations for the sector.’

A CGC spokesperson said in an email,“We heard from many respond- ents that the grading system needs to remain efficient and inexpensive, and that adding analytical testing would likely increase costs. Based on the feedback received during the discussion, the CGC is not taking steps to add falling number and DON as official grain-grading factors at this time. However, several producer group submissions also highlighted the potential benefit of extending the CGC’s ‘subject to inspector’s grade and dockage’ arbitration service to falling number and DON results. There may be an opportunity to explore the possibility of expanding this service to quality factors outside the grading system through the Canada Grain Act Review.”

Variables can mean serious discounts

Many farmers are reporting variable falling number tests from wheat harvested from the same field. These variables can mean serious discounts.

One concern with the falling number test is that different factors can influence the result. Some vari- ability comes from the way the test is performed. For example, the time it takes a technician to prepare the sample can vary, producing small dif-

ferences in the falling number. Grain moisture, altitude and atmospheric pressure can also affect the result. Then there are biological differences in wheat varieties caused by varia- tions in moisture, temperature and maturity, which can even cause differ- ent falling numbers in samples taken from different areas of the same farm.

Rejean Picard, Manitoba Agriculture farm production adviser, says that as long as the correct

protocols for the falling number test are followed, the results should be accurate, but there can definitely
be different falling numbers from samples in different areas of a field. “It depends on the amount of lodging and whether the grain was swathed or standing because we have seen that crops that were swathed were worse in terms of sprouting issues,” he says.

About the author


Angela Lovell

Angela Lovell is a freelance writer based in Manitou, Manitoba. Visit her website at or follow her on Twitter @angelalovell10.



Stories from our other publications