More Tests For Falling Number

I have an inkling that this fall some buyers of higher quality feed wheat may be looking for more specific quality requirements. In particular, we may see the increase in the use of “falling numbers.” What IS a falling number exactly? Why is it important?

Let’s start with harvest. If wheat starts to sprout in the head, there’s an increase in alpha-amylase. Alpha-amylase breaks down starch. This enzyme has an effect on the quality of flour produced from the wheat. The longer the grain sprouts, the great the amount of alpha-amylase formed. If the wheat is badly sprouted, the flour milled from this wheat can make sticky, doughy bread with reduced crumb strength and sliceability. A “falling number” test measures the effect of this starch-degrading enzyme.

To run the test, the lab mixes wheat meal and water, then heats it to create a paste. The number of seconds it takes for a plunger to fall to the bottom of a glass tube filled with this paste is the falling number. If the wheat is badly sprouted, for example, the tube could fall in less than 60 seconds. Higher quality wheat gives a thicker paste in the tube, thus the plunger takes longer to fall.

For CWRS from Western Canada, some of the falling number specifications I’m seeing from some buyers is 300 or higher.

Some buyers have the ability to perform this test in-house. Others (if they’re leaning in this direction) may request the producer have a falling number test performed prior to sample submission. One company that performs a falling number test is Intertek in Winnipeg. (You can reach them at 204-944-1887.) The cost is about $25 and the lab requires a 200-gram representative sample. Test results are typically available one business day after receipt of the sample.

This is not just for high-end milling wheat. If a grain buyer is looking for a higher quality feed wheat (with specifications above and beyond 58 pounds per bushel, 12.5 per cent protein, and dry), a strong falling number may qualify your feed wheat for an additional premium.

PRICING UPDATE

So far, there are limited bids for fall feed wheat but pricing from CWB Pool Return Outlooks and Fixed Price Contracts can give an indication of what off-board offers MIGHT be. Be assured, at this point in time, with many grain producers intending wheat to be part of their rotation this spring and some volume of current stock yet in the bin, prices for off-board

This falling number tester can measure the degree of sprouting in wheat. Sprouted wheat makes poor bread. The tester drops a plunger through a test tube filled with a paste of wheat meal and water. The slower it falls, the higher the falling number. Photo credit: Perten Instruments AB, Stockholm, Sweden. www.perten.com

feed wheat won’t be as attractive as board grain. (See the table for projections.)

One other option with the CWB that more producers are turning to is loading producer cars for wheat. This decreases the average $1.45 per bushel deduction (in Alberta) versus the traditional method of hauling to the closest elevator. Plus, from what many producers tell me, the dockage and grades are working in their favour at the coast.

Lastly, after talking with many producers, it looks like wheat may be the favoured cereal in this year’s rotations. If this turns out to be the case, based on seeded acres, buyers will have an abundance of wheat to choose from. Good supply rarely goes hand-in-hand with a good price.

Shelley Wetmore is owner of Market Master, a feedgrain brokerage and consulting service based in Edmonton. You can reach her toll free at 1-800-440-8390 or visit www.grain-watchdog.com.

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