WINTER WHEAT VARIETY BREEDS INDUSTRY EXCITEMENT
OPPORTUNITIES IDENTIFIED IN PREMIUM ASIAN FOOD MARKETS
BY ALLISON FINNAMORE
There’s plenty of excitement about a new winter wheat variety unique to Western Canada.
W530 was developed by Robert Graf, research scientist, winter wheat breeding, with Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, who is based at the Lethbridge Research Centre. It’s the first Hard White Winter Wheat for Western Canada, and Graf said the excitement builds choice in the potential end uses for W530.
“The thinking about this line, based on its end-use quality profile, is that it will fit well into the Asian steamed-bun and noodle markets,” Graf said. The pristine white flour produced by the new variety makes it a natural fit for the highly valuable Asian steamed-bread market.
Recognizable for its smooth, bright-white surface and symmetrical shape, steamed bread is a leavened wheat-flour product resulting from steaming fermented wheat-flour dough.
Lisa Nemeth, director of international markets at the Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi), shares Graf’s excitement about the new variety and its prospects. At its processing facilities in Winnipeg, Cigi evaluated W530 for milling properties; flour quality; and performance in steamed-bread, noodle and pan-bread applications.
“Flour from Canadian Western Red Winter Wheat is already very white, and this variety is similar,” Nemeth said. “With a white bran, the flour would be even brighter at a higher flour extraction. The bright-white colour, protein content and quality of this wheat make it excellent for Asian steamed bread. That’s where the value is in this wheat.”
The impetus for moving the variety into the commercialization process was a group of growers examining what they could do to grow more profitable varieties, Graf explained. The breeding program for Hard White Winter Wheat began in the late 1990s in an attempt to produce a higher-value winter wheat.
“At the time, my thinking was that there were some markets that preferred white wheat,” Graf recalled, noting the bright flour colour Nemeth mentioned. Graf started research on developing varieties of Hard White Winter Wheat with end-use properties similar to that of Hard Red Winter Wheat. That work progressed, but without a home for the end product, it was never a primary focus.
Over a decade later, in 2011, the Alberta Winter Wheat Producers Commission met with Cigi to discuss how to access higher-valued markets. “One of the things talked about was the Asian steamed-bun market,” Graf said, when again the point of the white appearance of the steamed bread was mentioned. “As we were talking about this, W530 came to mind,” he said.
That association meeting with Cigi prompted Graf and his team to move W530 research to the forefront. “We needed to take this line off the shelf and multiply enough grain to facilitate the work with Cigi, to see if it had the properties for Asian steamed buns. Funding of the quality work by the Alberta Wheat Commission was critical for this to happen,” he said.
W530 received interim registration at the 2015 meeting of the Prairie Recommending Committee for Wheat, Rye and Triticale, opening the door for seed-multiplication and market-development work.
Meanwhile, FP Genetics is working to get the wheat into farmers’ fields. Rod Merryweather, CEO of FP Genetics, and seed portfolio manager Ron Weik said the company will work on logistics management and selling to end users: seed multiplication, identity-preserved production and even the creation of a new wheat class.
They share the excitement over the new variety. “We see this as a new opportunity for a premium market for Canadian farmers,” Merryweather said. “Maybe it will be a good, new product that will fulfil a lot of needs.”
The fact that the variety is the first-ever Hard White Winter Wheat for Western Canada is even more exciting, Weik said. “It’s once in a lifetime that you get an opportunity like this.”
Merryweather said that, as far as wheat growers are concerned, it will be four years before the variety is ready for commercial planting—once testing is finished and four generations of seed have been produced. FP Genetics’ current plan is to plant approximately 50,000 acres a year across Western Canada.
In terms of production, Graf said farmers will find W530 very similar to other winter wheat varieties, yielding slightly more than well-known varieties AC Radiant and CDC Buteo. W530 has winter hardiness similar to AC Flourish and CDC Falcon. It has a short, strong straw and good resistance to stem, leaf and stripe rust. It is moderately susceptible to Fusarium head blight, with a lower occurrence of deoxynivalenol and Fusarium-damaged kernels than the Canada Western Red Spring checks, and is susceptible to common bunt. Graf stated that W530—whose end name is still in the registration process—is suited to any region in Western Canada, as long as good agronomic practices are maintained. As with any winter wheat, planting into standing stubble within the recommended dates for crop insurance
For milling properties, W530 is exceptional, Cigi stated, with high milling yields of bright-white flour with low ash content and excellent gluten strength relative to protein content. In addition to its promise in the Asian steamed-bread markets, W530 performs well in whole-grain pan breads and white salted noodles applications.
The mechanics of the commercialization process are progressing while Graf continues to work on other breeding projects. Recent work includes the development of W512, which is well-suited for production in Alberta and western Saskatchewan.
“We’ve got other lines in the pipeline that we hope to get registered and into production in the near future,” he said. Still, seeing a unique variety such as W530 through to this stage—and knowing that profitable commercialization is just within reach—is more than just another day at the office.
“It’s absolutely cool. This is what I do. I enjoy wheat breeding, and I feel it is what I was meant to do. To get something brand new to this stage, where it could impact farmer profitability in Western Canada, is very exciting.”