Grain grading in Canada

Grain grades

In Canada, grain grades are a tool used to define the quality of grain. Grades relate to a grain's end-use quality, meaning grades relate to how grain characteristics affect performance during processing (e.g. how much flour is produced during milling) or the quality of the end product (e.g. texture of cooked pasta).

Grades are a part of transactions in the Canadian grain industry. That is, a producer receives payment based on the grade of grain delivered. A grain dealer receives payment from a domestic or export customer based on the grade of grain being sold.

Under the Canada Grain Act, the Canadian Grain Commission is responsible for establishing and maintaining Canada’s grain grading system.

Most countries that grow, export or import grain use grain grades.

Contract specifications and grain grades

Customers of Canadian grain can buy grain based on grade or they can use contract specifications. While the Canadian Grain Commission establishes and regulates the grain grading system in Canada, we do not require producers or grain dealers to use grades during transactions. Contract specifications may be used to specify quality beyond that offered by the grading system.

Grading factors

Grades are assigned based on a sample’s ability to meet tolerances for various grading factors. A grading factor represents the physical condition of grain. This condition can be a result of growing conditions,  handling procedures or storage practices. A grading factor is a visual characteristic that indicates a reduction in quality.

Example: Sprout damage

Sprout damage is a grading factor in wheat. Sprout damage happens when wheat kernels begin to germinate before harvesting. When this happens, the kernels release an enzyme called alpha-amylase, which breaks down the starch in the kernel.

When sprouted kernels are milled, the flour holds less water when it’s mixed, and the dough absorbs less water during baking. This means that a baker must use more flour to make the same number of loaves of bread. As well, bread made from sprouted kernels is gummy, making it hard to slice. Additionally, affected bread is less attractive to customers.

Setting and changing grain grades

Grain grades in Canada are set or changed only after careful consideration and research. While the system is flexible enough to meet the changing needs of producers, industry and customers, it is also stable and reliable.

The Canadian Grain Commission sets standards and specifications for grades of grain based on recommendations from the Eastern Standards Committee and the Western Standards Committee. Each committee is made up of grain producers, representatives of the Canadian Grain Commission and Agriculture and Agri-food Canada, grain handlers, processors and exporters.

Briefly, a grading issue is brought forward to one of the standards committees for discussion. After discussions about the potential effect of the issue on Canada’s grain industry or its customers, the committee may recommend further study. Once research and consultation is complete, the committee may recommend that the Canadian Grain Commission change its current grading tolerances.

Example: Fusarium-damaged kernels

Adjustments to tolerances for Fusarium-damaged kernels in wheat were made in 2011.

Fusarium damage results in thin or shrunken, chalk-like kernels. It is caused by Fusarium graminearum, a fungus that infects wheat. Fusarium graminearum contains deoxynivalenol (DON), which is toxic to both humans and animals.

Tolerances for Fusarium-damaged kernels were adjusted because research conducted by the Canadian Grain Commission found that a new strain of Fusarium graminearum contained more deoxynivalenol than other strains. This meant that the relationship between Fusarium damage and levels of deoxynivalenol was no longer accurate. Tolerances needed to be adjusted so that wheat shipments continued to meet customer tolerances.

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