Grain Vision 93

by Teresa Acklin
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Grain quality perspectives

   With competitive and environmental pressures intensifying in the global grain industry, successful grain suppliers will be those countries delivering consistent quality grain that is safe for consumption.

   Development of technology permitting quick and cost-effective performance testing at all stages of processing also is critical.

   That was the consensus of grain processors speaking at the Grain Vision '93 conference, sponsored by the Canadian Grain Commission, in Winnipeg, Canada, in July. The conference, the first sponsored by the Commission, brought together grain processors from around the world to discuss their needs as buyers and consumers of Canadian grain.

   Grain quality is not a new issue, but the conference was designed to go beyond traditional quality concerns by identifying future trends and needs.

   Speakers described how grain was used in their industries and discussed current quality issues. They also provided perspectives on quality issues in the future.

   Seiichi Nagao, research director for Nisshin Flour Milling Co. Ltd., Tokyo, described Japan's milling industry and its quality needs. In 1991, Japan imported 5.79 million tonnes of wheat and produced 4.65 million tonnes of flour, he said.

   Some 96% of mill grind is industrial flour, Dr. Nagao noted. About 36% of that is used for bread and rolls, with an equal percentage used for noodles.

   Per capita flour consumption in Japan is about 32 kg, compared with 70 kg for rice. Although wheat consumption has stabilized in recent years, Dr. Nagao said pasta was gaining in popularity.

   Because milling and baking are highly automated in Japan, the industry requires wheat of uniform quality to operate efficiently, he said. Dockage, foreign material and damaged kernels are of particular concern.

   The major issue in the future will be food safety, Dr. Nagao explained. Evidence of pesticide residue or post-harvest chemical treatments will not be tolerated by millers and bakers, as they respond to demands from consumers for food safety assurances.

   Development of new quick, cost-effective quality tests was advocated by Sam Rao, vice-president of research and technical services for ConAgra, Omaha, Nebraska, U.S.

   “Quality is ‘in the eye of the beholder,'” Mr. Rao said. “There is no good or bad wheat. It just depends on the end use.”

   Dr. Rao pointed out that mixing strength is not synonymous with baking quality, nor is baking quality synonymous with protein levels. Current grading systems and routine tests that measure protein content, sprout damage, mixing strength, etc. do not necessarily provide all of the information that millers and bakers need, he said. For that reason, the industry needs to develop new tests that are quick, easy and cost-effective.

   In describing Brazil's emergence from more than 25 years of goverment control of wheat and flour milling, Fernando Coutinho of Moinho Santista Alimentos, S.A., Sao Paulo, said Brazil's needs are different from other countries.

   Per capita bread consumption is only about 35 kg per year, compared with 100 kg in Argentina, Mr. Coutinho said. The disparity is one result of Brazil's former government policies that banned stimulation of wheat consumption through advertising and marketing. But potential market growth for wheat-based foods is enormous, he said.

   Brazil's mills, now free to buy wheat from any source, typically import from Argentina, Canada and the U.S., although import duties may apply on all but Argentine wheat. At present, price is perhaps the

   most important factor in wheat-buying decisions, Mr. Coutinho said.

   In general, test weight and extraction rates are important qualities for bulk wheat, he said, while color, protein quality and gluten quality are critical factors in milling and baking. The ability to test flour performance for its designed end use also is important, he noted.

   As Brazilian flour millers modernize facilities, their needs also are focusing on improving storage, technology, equipment and information.

   In the United Kingdom, the market for bread is declining, said David Henderson, representing Warburton's Ltd., Bolton, a baking company that positioned itself in a niche market for high-quality bread products. Even so, Warburton's flour usage in the past 30 years has increased to 1,500 tonnes a week from 200 tonnes as the company has expanded its market share.

   The company uses a high-speed processing system that significantly reduces fermentation time. Accordingly, strong wheats from North America typically are blended with European varieties to obtain the correct mix for the system.

   In the future, increasing consumer pressures for food safety will force the grain and processing industries to change, Mr. Henderson said. For example, when potassium bromate was banned in the U.K., baking interests were required to re-invent their mixing systems to incorporate acceptable oxidizing agents. But dough tolerance was lost as a result, he said.

   Concerns about the impact of intensive farming on the environment and on food safety also are likely to encourage a gradual worldwide reduction or banning of fertilizers and pesticides, Mr. Henderson said. Global warming also may become a factor.

   These developments not only would affect yields and world output, but also would affect grain quality characteristics, he said. Grain suppliers increasingly may need to turn to plant genetics to address these issues, he said.

   For Canada, the future as a world grain supplier is its variety control system, according to Milt Wakefield, chief commissioner of the Grain Commission. And the varieties offered must evolve to meet changing market needs, he said. Mr. Wakefield also predicted technology would permit non-visual inspection and further segregation of grain by quality characteristics, as well as rapid instrumental testing.