Wheat farmers say they need accurate, uniform results of quality test

By MATTHEW WEAVER

Capital Press

When Genesee, Idaho-based wheat farmer Joseph Anderson turned in his harvest from the latter part of the harvest season, a test showed low falling numbers.

Grain elevators use the test to measure the level of alpha-amylase activity in wheat kernels for milling quality. A higher falling number is better than a lower one.

"The wheat will sell, but they have a discount schedule," Anderson said. "It becomes a disappointment if what you thought the crop was worth was more than what the buyers are paying for it."

Anderson hasn't marketed the low-testing wheat yet, and he is uncertain what it means for discounts.

Idaho Grain Producers Association President Eric Hasselstrom received discounts on his grain, grown in Winchester, Idaho.

"My feeling is if they're going to deduct for the visual sprout, it's kind of like double discounts on the same quality problem," he said.

Hasselstrom would like to see an accurate, uniform test if results are to be used for the discount schedule.

Anderson and Hasselstrom also expressed concern about the test itself.

"Even when they're properly calibrated, the machines can have a variation in their results," Anderson said. "It's a little frustrating, a new discount factor that we really haven't had a lot of in the past."

He's not alone in his frustrations.

Cori Wittman, the National Association of Wheat Growers director of government affairs for farm policy, said more grain elevators are testing for falling numbers in addition to test weights, protein levels and sprout damage.

Falling numbers is one of several quality factors that results in heavy discounts at the elevator, but isn't something that's covered by crop insurance programs under the risk management agency, Wittman said,

"We're coming in and looking at that inequality and what (the agency) will cover, because farmers are taking pretty big hits at the elevators," Wittman said.

The national association is seeking support from the USDA Risk Management Agency to address disparity between the discounts taken at the elevator and compensation for discounts, director of communications Melissa George Kessler said.

The agency has expressed interest in working on the situation, she said, but more information needs to be gathered for a proposal before the agency can consider it.

"Growers are frustrated by the fact that they're not getting crop insurance compensation for the discounts they're taking, but it's a pretty long road to make headway in affecting crop insurance policy," Wittman said.

In the meantime, Hasselstrom sent his wheat back for retesting in hopes of getting a better result.

"About the only other thing a farmer can do is have a real good working relationship with their elevator," he said. "Maybe (they can) sit down and try to negotiate those discounts."

Staff writer Matthew Weaver is based in Spokane. E-mail: mweaver@capitalpress.com.

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