* Gluten important for keeping shape of baked goods
* Problem may be related to growing different varieties
By Rod Nickel
WINNIPEG, Manitoba, April 2 China's state-owned
agricultural trading company, COFCO, has complained about the
poor baking performance of some Canadian spring wheat shipments
and has suggested it may import more U.S. wheat instead,
Canadian industry officials say.
COFCO raised concerns about weak gluten strength in some
Canadian wheat shipments last month with a visiting delegation
from the Canadian International Grains Institute (CIGI), the
institute's chief executive, Earl Geddes, said.
Geddes said at a Canada Grains Council meeting in Winnipeg
on Tuesday that COFCO officials told the delegation that if the
problem isn't corrected, COFCO may import more Dark Northern
Spring (DNS) wheat from the United States instead of Canada
Western Red Spring (CWRS).
"It's damaging the consistency part of the (Canadian wheat)
brand as much as anything," Geddes said on the sidelines of the
grains council meeting. "I don't think this is insurmountable in
any way, to where the Canadian wheat brand will lose its
position," he added.
CIGI is a nonprofit organization funded by the industry,
farmers and the Canadian government to support buyers of
Canada is the world's biggest exporter of spring wheat and
highly regarded by importers for its top-quality supplies. China
is the world's second-biggest wheat producer after the European
Union but also buys Canadian spring wheat for flour used in
Gluten protein is important for keeping the shape of baked
goods through the baking process.
During the past two years, some CWRS wheat has displayed
weak gluten strength in shipments early in the marketing year
(August/July), possibly due to farmers growing different wheat
varieties, Geddes said.
Some European buyers of Canadian wheat have also raised
concerns about gluten strength, said Elwin Hermanson, the chief
commissioner of the Canadian Grain Commission, a federal
government agency that regulates the country's grain-handling
"I don't think it's widespread or it's serious to the point
of doing irreparable damage to Canada's reputation," Hermanson
said. "But I think we're hearing some warnings that we should
probably take seriously."
The problem predates the end of the Canadian Wheat Board's
western wheat marketing monopoly, which ended last year.
Inconsistent gluten strength hasn't been as big an issue for
Canada Bread Company Ltd, the bakery unit owned by
Maple Leaf Foods Inc.
"In our experience, it comes and goes," said Barry McLean,
president of fresh bakery at Canada Bread. "I wouldn't say that
the last couple of years have been noticeably worse."
CIGI is conducting field research this year in hope of
fixing the problem ahead of the 2014 crop, Geddes said.
Meantime, CIGI is helping buyers make adjustments to the milling
or baking process to deal with unexpected gluten weakness in
The wheat in question doesn't perform any differently during
the process of milling it into flour, but problems have emerged
during bread baking, Geddes said.
"There are all kinds of different ways to deal with it and
if you know that, you can help them with it. (COFCO) are saying,
'well might be just as easy to go to DNS'. We're saying, 'no,
don't do that yet'."
China is already an attractive market for U.S. exporters,
offering plenty of opportunity to supply spring and winter
wheats for blending with China's domestic supplies, said Shannon
Schlecht, vice president of policy at U.S. Wheat Associates, a
marketing promotion agency.