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Hard White Focus Shifts To Bread

A shift in marketing emphasis has thrown a curve into Canada’s hard white wheat breeding program. While the initial plan was to produce wheats most suitable to Asian noodle markets, the focus has now changed to produce hard white wheat more suitable for the bread market.

To farmers and consumers it may not seem like a big deal, but to plant breeders it is a significant change, which puts more emphasis on baking quality rather than mixing quality characteristics of the class. At the same time, as part of variety development, they have to keep in mind the agronomic package, which means among other things, varieties that yield well and have good disease resistance.

“Changing breeding programs is a bit like trying to change direction with an ocean liner. It takes time,” says Gavin Humphreys, wheat breeder with Agriculture Canada’s Cereal Research Centre (CRC) in Winnipeg. “An ocean liner doesn’t turn like a Smart car. The shift toward producing varieties more suitable for baked goods is a significant change.”

Humphreys says the change will probably mean it will be another couple years before there will be new varieties from his breeding program. The CRC has released three hard white wheat varieties over the past 15 years. The newest, AC Snowstar, which was available for commercial production in 2009, is probably the closest to quality characteristics preferred by the baking industry.

In Saskatoon, wheat breeder Pierre Hucl at the University of Saskatchewan’s Crop Development Centre (CDC), agrees that the change in market focus has delayed breeding efforts. “The key issue is the quality profile and we’ve seen three shifts in target quality over the past 10 years, the most recent being last year, so it brings us back to the drawing board,” he says.

In breeding terms, the CDC hard white wheat program is relatively new. Over the past 10 years they have developed some lines that made it into the first year of the registration process, but were eliminated because of quality issues.

“In many respects we are just getting started,” says Hucl. “Breeding hard white wheat varieties is perhaps more difficult than other wheat varieties, first because there is a smaller gene pool to draw from, and second if you are getting material from Australia or other regions, it has to be made adaptable to Canadian growing conditions.”

With good market and agronomic potential for hard white wheat in Canada, Hucl would like to see it, in funding terms, on equal footing with hard red spring wheat.

WHATMAKESHAR DWHITE SPECIAL?

You may have noticed recent television commercials show-

ing happy children eating white whole wheat bread. That’s one of main markets Western Canadian hard white wheat breeders and marketers are targeting these days.

With improved milling and baking quality of newer varieties, the hope is to get more North American consumers — kids who love white bread — eating products made from whole-wheat flour and dough that just happens to be white.

And there is a large international market potential, too. Hard white wheat is used in Asian countries to produce foods such as wonton noodles, alkaline noodles, steamed breads, and soft dough biscuits. The international market side may be a tougher nut to crack, however, since Australia (with 33 million acres) and China (with 55 million acres) are both major producers of hard white wheat varieties, and major suppliers to these target markets.

But a new variety grown in 2009 and other new varieties in the breeding pipeline are expected to keep Canada in the game as a producer of high quality hard white wheat. It is still a relatively small market now, requiring less than 200,000 acres per year until the market develops further. As it looks to find new markets, the Canadian Wheat Board is no longer offering price direct premiums for hard white wheat, however, some of the grain companies who have developed markets for the grain are offering incentives for identity preserved (IP) production in a closed loop system.

The challenge with this new class of wheat is to match production to market size. Farmers could produce more of the IP crop, but increased production will depend on market development. For 2010 it appears production demand for hard white wheat will be little changed from 2009.

There are three hard white wheat varieties registered in Canada. All were developed at Agriculture Canada’s Cereal Research Centre in Winnipeg. Fred Townley-Smith led much of the breeding effort through the 1990s, and following his retirement, he passed the torch to Gavin Humphreys. Along

with CDC in Saskatoon, other centres looking at hard white wheat include Agriculture Canada researchers in Swift Current and Lethbridge.

CURRENT VARIETIES

Kanata, the first hard white wheat released in 2000, had many good qualities, such as early maturity and strong straw, but it had lower yield than hard red spring varieties. Snowbird, released in 2003, is a taller, more traditional height with reasonable leaf and stem rust resistance, and good yields over most areas of Western Canada. Snowstar, first grown commercially in 2009, offered some improvements. It has a shorter stem, with stronger straw, improved leaf rust resistance and higher yields, and is maybe a bit better suited to growing conditions in the eastern Prairies. Snowstar is susceptible to common bunt, so requires a seed fungicide treatment in areas where that is a concern.

Improving the agronomic characteristics of hard white is certainly important to producers, says Humphreys, but on the other side of the program, selecting varieties for milling and baking quality characteristics is important to processors and bakers.

In producing whole wheat flour, hard white wheat has a higher extraction rate than hard red wheat, primarily because millers don’t have to deal with the red pigmentation in the bran. Hard white whole wheat flour isn’t as snow white as conventional flour, but it isn’t as dark as hard red whole wheat flour. And some people prefer the taste, too. That may be a matter of personal preference, but general comments are that products made from hard white wheat flour are sweeter or have a less astringent taste than red whole wheat products.

Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at

with CDC in Saskatoon, other centres looking at hard white wheat include Agriculture Canada researchers in Swift Current and Lethbridge.

CURRENT VARIETIES

Kanata, the first hard white wheat released in 2000, had many good qualities, such as early maturity and strong straw, but it had lower yield than hard red spring varieties. Snowbird, released in 2003, is a taller, more traditional height with reasonable leaf and stem rust resistance, and good yields over most areas of Western Canada. Snowstar, first grown commercially in 2009, offered some improvements. It has a shorter stem, with stronger straw, improved leaf rust resistance and higher yields, and is maybe a bit better suited to growing conditions in the eastern Prairies. Snowstar is susceptible to common bunt, so requires a seed fungicide treatment in areas where that is a concern.

Improving the agronomic characteristics of hard white is certainly important to producers, says Humphreys, but on the other side of the program, selecting varieties for milling and baking quality characteristics is important to processors and bakers.

In producing whole wheat flour, hard white wheat has a higher extraction rate than hard red wheat, primarily because millers don’t have to deal with the red pigmentation in the bran. Hard white whole wheat flour isn’t as snow white as conventional flour, but it isn’t as dark as hard red whole wheat flour. And some people prefer the taste, too. That may be a matter of personal preference, but general comments are that products made from hard white wheat flour are sweeter or have a less astringent taste than red whole wheat products.

Lee Hart is a field editor for Grainews in Calgary, Contact him at 403-592-1964 or by email at [email protected]

About the author

Field Editor

Lee Hart

Lee Hart is editor of Cattleman’s Corner based in Calgary.

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