What characteristics do you prioritize when choosing which wheat variety to plant? Yield, maturity,
height, pest or disease resistance? Do you consider end-use quality?
When consumers “eat wheat”, it is rarely in the kernel form that leaves your farm. There are at least
two major steps required before enjoying a wheat product: milling and baking. The end-use quality of
wheat varieties is critical to both. Millers and bakers throughout the United States and around the world
are increasingly particular and stringent about specific end-use qualities they require. Thoughtful variety
selection on the farm is important to maintaining demand for Idaho wheat, both domestically and
Over the last fifteen years, our international competitors have greatly improved their wheat quality
standards and our fellow wheat states are investing more in developing wheat varieties with traits
that are sought after by millers, bakers, and food processors. Fortunately, Idaho and the Pacific
Northwest states have long emphasized milling and baking quality in wheat breeding and variety
selection. The three states publish a Preferred Variety List every year to indicate where varieties
rank with specific characteristics, such as threshing ease and millability, and maintaining that focus
is more important than ever.
We asked two key industry partners to help explain how end-use quality characteristics affect the
milling and baking process. Reuben McLean is the Senior Director of Quality & Regulatory at Grain
Craft, a significant user of Idaho wheat in southern and eastern Idaho, and a major influence on variety
adoption in the region. Grain Craft publishes its own preferred variety list each year. Dr. Jayne Bock is
the Technical Director at the Wheat Marketing Center (WMC) in Portland, Oregon. WMC works with
end-product manufactures around the globe, demonstrating how U.S. wheat can meet changing
What quality parameters are most important to millers and why?
Three primary parameters of wheat are critical to flour millers. These include: the flour yield derived
from the wheat, the ability to make quality finished flour, and finally, consistency in flour processing and
Quality traits for finished flour are evaluated by milling a small sample of the wheat and testing the flour
for its functional characteristics, including moisture content, protein content, ash content, falling
number, and farinograph.
Consistency in flour processing and bake performance is thoroughly evaluated to test the flour’s water
absorption, dough strength, mixing characteristics, and final bake. High performing flour typically shows
optimal water absorption, increased stability, strong mixing tolerance, and favorable mix times.
Why is test weight important?
Test weight is the official weight of one bushel of wheat. It is a grading factor set by the Federal Grain
Inspection Service (FGIS) and a common specification in wheat purchasing contracts. Test weight is an
indication of potential flour yield. In general, a higher test weight means flour millers can expect a
higher volume of flour from one bushel of wheat.
Why do I get price discounts for low falling number wheat?
A low falling number usually indicates the presence of alpha amylase, which has a negative effect on the
baking process. There are two causes of low falling number: the first is a rain event near harvest that
causes pre-harvest sprout damage, which starts germination of the seed. The second is large
temperature swings during the grain filling period, which induces the production of late maturity alpha
amylase. When you bake a product, especially bread or cakes, the presence of alpha amylase means the
starch won’t set properly during baking and you will lose the structure of the product. Your bread or
cake will essentially collapse.
Low falling number wheat cannot simply be blended with sound wheat, or high falling number wheat, to
correct the problem. Even significant amounts of sound wheat blended with low falling number wheat
does not guarantee the blended product will pass falling number tests. Therefore, trying to negate the
problem of low falling number through blending is not advisable.
Is protein a factor in wheat quality?
Absolutely, especially for hard and spring wheat classes. Wheat’s bread baking potential is derived
largely from the quantity and quality of its protein content. Generally, higher protein content will
always deliver better absorption, dough strength, and bake performance. That said, established market
targets for various classes of wheat seem to be more than sufficient – Hard Red Winter (12.0%), Hard
White Winter (12.0%), Hard Red Spring (14.0%), Soft White Winter (10.0%).
Why should farmers consider end-use quality in their selection?
Unlike many other commodity crops, wheat’s primary use is for food products rather than animal feed.
Therefore, the quality of these wheat-based food products is highly dependent on the flour, and quality
flour can only be achieved using quality wheat.
Grower commitment to end-use quality guarantees continued market demand for each unique class of
wheat. For example, poor quality hard red winter wheat may result in mills having to incorporate hard
red spring wheat to compensate for quality, thereby reducing total demand for hard red winter wheat
varieties. Environment and management on the farm contribute roughly 70% to the quality of the crop,
while the other 30% can be attributed to variety/genotype. Nobody can control mother nature, but
millers and bakers do have the ability to encourage use of varieties with more consistent and acceptable
end-use quality. Thanks to Idaho’s unique growing climate and the amount of research done in the
Pacific Northwest through variety trials and breeding, farmers have the opportunity, resources, and
technology to choose wheat varieties and on-farm management practices that will produce the most
desirable end-use qualities for millers, bakers, and food processors here at home and around the globe.