Wet weather increasing sprout damage levels in wheat

Visual damage to wheat kernels might look cringe-worthy, but it’s the damage you can’t see that’s causing downgrading this harvest season.

Jeremy Boychyn, agronomist with the Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions, says wet harvest weather even before the late September snow storm is negatively impacting falling number — a key measure of milling quality.

Some farmers are surprised to see low falling numbers even if they harvested before the snow, but Boychyn says it’s not just snow or rain that can cause issues with falling number.

“I think it’s important to take a step back and kind of realize what falling number is. Falling number is really a factor that relates to the enzyme alpha-amylase, and when the crop gets to the end of the season, and that seed starts to mature on the head, when it encounters really moist and cold conditions… it wants to start to regrow,” he says.

That very early start of regrowth means that the alpha-amylase has already started to breakdown starch even before you can see any visual indication of sprouting.

Story continues below this audio of Shaun Haney and Jeremy Boychyn’s discussion on falling number challenges this fall:

Farmers can’t control the weather, but there may be some management practices that decrease the weathering risk. Anything that moves harvest earlier can help, including using ultra-early seeding, with a high seeding rate and a seed treatment. Choosing earlier maturing varieties would also work, as would choosing a variety with more resistance to sprouting.

The Alberta Wheat and Barley Commissions has published a recent newsletter on this topic which can be found here.

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