Wheat School: The Fusarium Story of 2016

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The rain that helped Western Canadian farmers grow big wheat yields in 2016 also created some quality problems that are complicating the marketing of the 31.7 million tonne crop.

Almost half (48.6 percent) of the Canada Western Red Spring wheat samples received by the Canadian Grain Commission in its voluntary harvest sample program were downgraded due to fusarium damage, explains Daryl Beswitherick, the CGC’s program manager for quality assurance, in this Wheat School episode.

For durum, around 65 percent of submitted Canada Western Amber Durum samples were downgraded due to fusarium.

Typically in the 20-30 percent range, Beswitherick says the percentages of samples downgraded due to fusarium are the highest he’s seen in 17 years working at the CGC.

Levels of deoxynivalenol (DON) — the toxin in grain infected with fusarium graminearum — started out higher than normal, but appear to have dropped in samples from later harvested grain, he notes. The rule of thumb historically has been 1 percent fusarium-damaged kernels (FDK) equals about one part per million DON.

“This year we were seeing higher levels of 2, 3, 4 to 1. That was early on (in harvest),” he explains. “We’ve heard some testing from companies where it’s inverse now, where the DON is lower than what it should be compared to the fusarium damage.”

Having just returned from a grain industry mission to South America, Beswitherick says the message to customers of Canadian grain is that there is still good quality grain available, and the grain supply chain is fully-capable of meeting customer expectations.

“We don’t shy away from telling them that we had some significant rain in 2016 and it has an impact on the quality of the crop, but we present that there is still good quality crop out there,” he says. “And it’s not something new for the Canadian grain industry. The industry has been managing fusarium damage for many years.”

As farmers can attest in shopping fusarium-damaged grain to local buyers, marketing this year’s crop won’t be as simple as it has been other years.

“It’s going to take a lot of testing to ensure shipments meet the specifications and requirements for the countries we’re shipping to, which is all added cost for the industry, but it’s necessary and we have full confidence the industry can manage this and ship this year’s crop,” notes Beswitherick.

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