Canadian Grain Commission Science Strategy

Consultation period ended

The consultation regarding the Canadian Grain Commission’s Science Strategy ended on March 31, 2022. We thank all of those who gave us their comments.

Introduction

The Canadian Grain Commission is the federal government department responsible for administering the Canada Grain Act. Its mandate is to, “in the interests of the grain producers, establish and maintain standards of quality for Canadian grain and regulate grain handling in Canada, to ensure a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets.”

Section 14 of the Act requires the Canadian Grain Commission to undertake, sponsor, and promote research in relation to grain and grain products. Science is carried out in the Canadian Grain Commission’s Grain Research Laboratory.

The Grain Research Laboratory’s vision is to “be the pre-eminent scientific research centre for studying, monitoring, and testing the quality, safety and functionality of Canadian grain and grain products in support of their marketability”.

The Canadian Grain Commission is committed to advancing knowledge on grain through excellence in grain research and science-based activities conducted with integrity, respect, accountability, adaptability, and collaboration. These are the core values that form the foundation of the Canadian Grain Commission’s work and guide its decision-making.

The Canadian Grain Commission’s research and science-based activities contribute to the entire grain value chain and benefit Canadians as consumers of grain products. Collaborations with industry partners keep the Canadian Grain Commission aware of new research developments. Frequent collaborators include the following:

  • the national and international scientific community
  • academia
  • grain industry organizations
  • other Canadian government departments such as Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada, the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, and Health Canada

These collaborations help the Canadian Grain Commission adapt research priorities to emerging challenges to ensure the quality and safety of Canadian grain.

Recently, as part of Agriculture and Agri-food Canada’s Canada Grain Act Review Consultations, some grain sector stakeholders provided high-level feedback on the Canadian Grain Commission’s research program, expressing support for grain science and research. While work continues on the broader response to the Canada Grain Act consultation, the Canadian Grain Commission is moving to develop a Science Strategy to support innovative research and science-based activities and provide a vision for the future.

A Science Strategy will:

  • inform where to focus our research and science-based activities based on emerging trends in grain quality and safety
  • ensure that science continues to underpin Canada’s grain quality assurance system
  • help mid- and long-term decision making
  • guide investments in the organization's research and science-based activities

Purpose

We are seeking your input, comments and suggestions to help inform the Canadian Grain Commission’s Science Strategy. This engagement provides an opportunity for you to offer your thoughts on the following:

  • research and science-based activities currently carried out at the Canadian Grain Commission
  • gaps in and/or changes you feel may be needed to the Canadian Grain Commission’s current grain research and science-based activities

Your input will help ensure the science underpinning Canada’s grain quality assurance system meets the current and future needs of the grain sector. Detailed instructions on how to submit input are provided in Providing your input.

This document provides a general overview of the Canadian Grain Commission’s scientific work and highlights key areas of interest to initiate further discussion and engagement. Detailed descriptions of the Canadian Grain Commission’s research programs and activities are included in Annex 1.

Background

The Canadian Grain Commission’s Grain Research Laboratory works to establish and maintain standards of quality for Canadian grain by:

  • providing the science to support Canada’s grain quality assurance system
  • enhancing the dependability of Canadian grains through scientific research, monitoring and analytical services
  • anticipating and responding to the needs of the grain value chain by interacting with the grain sector and global grain science community

Canadian Grain Commission science supports Canada’s reputation as a consistent and reliable supplier of quality grain. Science forms the basis of the Canadian grain grading and grain quality assurance systems. Official grain grades are used to define the quality of grain, relate quality to price, and facilitate grain transactions along the supply chain from producer to end-use buyer. Official grain grades and specifications for each grade are set or refined only after careful consideration and scientific research.

The Canadian Grain Commission conducts research to assess, improve, and develop scientific procedures and technologies used to determine the safety and quality of grain. As part of its ongoing work, the Canadian Grain Commission considers the following factors:

  • availability and development of new testing technologies
  • analytical testing capacity of the Canadian grain sector
  • latest research findings
  • needs of the Canadian grain sector
  • needs of international buyers of Canadian grain related to quality and safety

Science at the Canadian Grain Commission is funded by a combination of government appropriations and revolving fund revenue (i.e., revenue from service fees). The 2022-23 Grain Research Laboratory operating budget is $14.25 million. Because a portion of the Grain Research Laboratory’s activities provide a public benefit to all Canadians, approximately 40% of the annual Grain Research Laboratory operating budget is funded through government appropriations. For example, the Canadian Grain Commission's research, traceability, and monitoring activities benefit all Canadians. The remainder of Canadian Grain Commission scientific research and science-based activities, such as analytical testing services requested by stakeholders, is funded by revenues collected from service fees.

The following sections provide a high-level summary of the Grain Research Laboratory’s current research, grain quality and analytical testing carried out by the Canadian Grain Commission, and recent changes or factors that could impact future research and science priorities. Information on Grain Research Laboratory programs and activities are published online in an Annual Program Report. Additional details about each program can be found in Annex 1.

Current research

Research conducted by the Grain Research Laboratory falls under two categories: crop research and technology research.

Crop research programs

Crop research assesses Canadian grain harvest quality and studies how grading factors affect end-use properties. Crop research also develops new uses for Canadian grain and evaluates new varieties as part of the variety registration process.Footnote 1

Bread Wheat and Durum Research

This program’s research includes analyzing how various grading factors affect wheat and durum functionality to provide scientific basis for their tolerances. The program performs a comprehensive quality evaluation of each new wheat line being considered for variety registration in Canada. Developing new methods for measuring quality and research on the biochemical basis of the wheat quality are also important components of the program. Other activities include providing information on the new crop quality characteristics of the major Canadian wheat classes and monitoring the quality of export wheat cargoes.

Milling and Malting / Research on Barley and Other Grains

This program’s research identifies, characterizes, and quantifies components and molecular mechanisms responsible for the quality, functionality and performance of Canadian barley and other grains (such as oat, canary seed, rye and buckwheat). Research activities include assessing genetic, agronomic and environmental factors that affect barley quality and how it performs during malting and brewing processes. Detailed information on the quality of malting barley for each variety and growing region is published in an annual harvest survey report.

Oilseeds

This program’s research analyzes factors such as oil, protein, glucosinolate, fatty acid composition and chlorophyll that contribute to the quality of products made from Canadian canola, rapeseed, flax, soybean and mustard. This research gives domestic and export customers of Canadian oilseeds important information about each year’s crop quality.

Pulse Research

This program’s research investigates factors that contribute to the overall quality of pulses and studies how the physical and chemical components of pulses affect the end-use products. This research supports the development of grading standards for peas, lentils, chickpeas, beans, fababeans and food-type soybeans and gives the pulse sector information on pulse quality and end-use functionality.

Technology research programs

Technology research programs evaluate and develop methods used to assess the quality and safety of Canadian grain.

Grain Biotechnology

The focus of this research program is to develop and evaluate DNA-based methods for identifying and quantifying genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in grains and oilseeds. The program also verifies protein-based methods to determine if they are suitable for detecting GMOs. These methods are used for testing grain samples for GMOs as required. The program also monitors wheat export shipments for wheats of other classes (WOOC) and ineligible varieties as these could undermine quality and create problems for customers. Variety identification and composition analyses support other research and services, including grain inspection services and the Canadian Grain Commission’s annual Harvest Sample Program.

Microbiology and Grain Genomics

This program’s activities include researching and monitoring pathogenic, quarantine and toxigenic microorganisms, such as moulds and bacteria, associated with Canadian grain and products made from Canadian grain. The program also develops new tools and employs new technologies to detect, identify and characterize these microorganisms. The program also uses genomics to establish new tests for crop variety identification and monitoring.

Trace Organics and Trace Elements Analysis

This program’s research and monitoring focuses on how factors such as sampling, processing, agronomic practices, or environmental conditions affect the presence of pesticides, mycotoxins, heavy metals and other elements, and fungal biomarkers in grain. Activities include developing, evaluating, and validating analytical methods. The program monitors samples from the Canadian Grain Commission’s Harvest Sample Program and from grain export shipments and generates databases used to support market access.

Analytical Services

This program includes a diverse group of activities and provides many different types of analytical services through the submitted sample program. The program oversees and maintains the Harvest Sample Program and provides the protein reference method the Canadian Grain Commission uses in important monitoring activities. This program also monitors and maintains Canadian calibrations for Unified Grain Moisture Algorithm (UGMA) moisture meters and model 919/3.5” moisture meters.

Scientific support for key Canadian Grain Commission activities

Beyond each program’s own research, monitoring, and analysis, all of the programs support four key Canadian Grain Commission activities:

  • cargo quality monitoring
  • the new variety registration support program
  • the Harvest Sample Program
  • the Analytical Services program

Cargo quality monitoring is the analytical testing of export grain shipments for quality and safety factors (e.g., mycotoxins, pesticides, variety composition). This testing ensures each shipment meets Canada’s grading and quality parameters and generates data on grain quality and safety over time. Cargo quality monitoring allows us to assess trends and take proactive measures to mitigate potential grain quality or safety issues. Monthly and quarterly aggregates are made from cargo samples to monitor grain quality and safety throughout the year. The Canadian Grain Commission uses this data to make “Statements of Assurance” that provide commodity-specific monitoring statistics that demonstrate quality and safety trends in Canadian grain exports. Canadian exporters can request these statements for any regulated grain exported in bulk.

The Canadian Grain Commission has supported the new variety registration process since the 1950s. Plant breeders, including commercial entities and public groups, submit new candidate lines and check cultivars to the Grain Research Laboratory for comprehensive quality evaluation. Quality assessment for the variety registration process uses data prepared by the Grain Research Laboratory.

The Harvest Sample Program is a voluntary program for Canadian grain farmers that has been running since 1927. Initially, the Canadian Grain Commission sent requests for samples to grain elevators. Now, sample envelopes are mailed directly to producers who sign up for the Harvest Sample Program on a voluntary basis. In 2021, 32,903 envelopes were mailed to 6,070 producers across Canada and 2,272 envelopes were sent to elevators and processors. In exchange for their samples, producers receive an unofficial grade and an analysis of their grain’s quality. Individual producers can use this information to market their grain more effectively. The Canadian Grain Commission uses the information to generate annual harvest quality reports for Canadian grain and to help promote the quality of Canadian grain internationally.

The Analytical Services program performs analytical testing of samples submitted by the industry on a fee-per-service basis. The Canadian Grain Commission maintains analytical laboratory capacity across Canada. Canadian Grain Commission technicians in regional laboratories perform analytical tests on official cargo samples upon request. Examples of tests conducted in regional laboratories include Falling Number in wheat and chlorophyll content in canola. For certain tests of higher complexity, the analysis must be conducted at the Grain Research Laboratory in Winnipeg.

Changes in the grain sector and trends

Over the last 30 years, the Canadian grain sector has undergone significant changes. These changes have included increasing and changing crop production (e.g., soybeans, canola, and special crops such as peas and lentils), investments in grain handling capacity and logistics, and changes in western Canadian wheat and barley marketing. Technological advancements at the farm level and beyond, as well as evolving grain buyer requirements, continue to shape the Canadian grain sector and its capacity as one of the world’s leading grain exporters.

There is an increasing emphasis on selling to specification, niche-marketing, and value-added processing. There are also potential opportunities for the Canadian Grain Commission to help develop new markets for Canadian grain.

Grain quality and safety issues continue to be concerns for the Canadian grain industry. Importers are becoming more discriminating and regulators more stringent in relation to genetically modified events, maximum residue limits for herbicides and pesticides, and maximum limits for naturally occurring toxins and trace elements. Grain and food safety are rising concerns in today’s environment because incidents of non-compliance can lead to cost ramifications across the value chain. Science can give Canada a competitive advantage in domestic and international markets sensitive to an increasing number of quality and safety attributes.

Providing your input

You are invited to submit input to the Canadian Grain Commission in the official language of your choice by March 31, 2022. Detailed instructions on how to submit input are provided below.

We would like to hear from you on any aspect of the Canadian Grain Commission’s research and science-based activities: what is working well, what could be improved, and what changes may be needed.

Questions for consideration

The following questions can be used as a guide for your feedback, but responses to these questions are not mandatory. Feedback on areas not covered in this discussion document is welcome. Including rationale and support for your views will assist decision making on any potential changes to science priorities at the Canadian Grain Commission.

  • Is the Grain Research Laboratory currently focusing research in the appropriate areas? Why or why not?
  • Are you satisfied with the current science-based activities within the Grain Research Laboratory? Why or why not?
  • What future trends do you think will impact research and/or science-based activities at the Canadian Grain Commission? What is the impact?
  • Are there areas of research and/or science-based activities do you think could be scaled back in the future to allow us to focus on new areas and/or respond to gaps?
  • Are there areas in which you think we should expand research and/or science-based activities to further support the grain quality assurance system and respond to market access and emerging trade issues?
  • Are there any other challenges, opportunities, partnerships, or research gaps based on grain sector priorities and emerging trends that we should consider when developing a Science Strategy?

How to submit your input

Please submit your input in writing by March 31, 2022.

You are invited to submit input in the official language of your choice by:

Science Strategy Comments
Canadian Grain Commission
600-303 Main Street
Winnipeg, MB R3C 3G8

The Canadian Grain Commission recommends you include the following information along with your input:

  • your full name
  • your phone number
  • your complete mailing address
  • your email address
  • information on the organization you represent, if any

If you would like to request a meeting to provide direct input, please provide the following information:

  • your full name
  • the name of the organization you represent
  • your organization’s phone number
  • your organization’s complete mailing address
  • your organization’s email address
  • the approximate date(s) when your organization wishes to meet with the Canadian Grain Commission
  • any additional information that is relevant

If you have any questions, please email discussions@grainscanada.gc.ca.

Thank you in advance for your contribution.

How we use your input and next steps

We will compile feedback we receive from this engagement process. All feedback received will be considered in development of the Science Strategy. However, we will unlikely be able to respond to every factor identified in the engagement phase. In some cases, we may reach out to you for additional information or feedback.

We will use your input along with other considerations, such as the following:

  • input received from other stakeholders
  • consistency with our mandate to establish and maintain standards of quality for Canadian grain, regulate grain handling in Canada, and to ensure that grain is a dependable commodity for domestic and export markets
  • the legal or policy implications of your proposals within the framework of the Canada Grain Act, if applicable
  • consistency with broader Government of Canada policies and priorities

Once finalized, we will publish the Science Strategy on our website.

Annex 1: Overview of Grain Research Laboratory crops and technology programs

Crop programs: monitoring and research

Milling and Malting / Barley and Other Grains

Overview

This program has three major components:

  • grain and malt quality analysis assessment
  • milling and processing technology
  • research and innovation for barley and other grains
Relevance to industry

This program generates knowledge and data to provide the expected scientific evidence and information to the grain industry via quality assurance and research activities.

Activities and research
  • Evaluates techniques and develops methods and protocols for measuring and predicting the quality and value of barley
  • Monitors the quality of barley for export, evaluating the quality of advanced breeders’ lines and assessing the quality of malting barley produced in western Canada
  • Study of quality and yield response of malting barley varieties to increasing nitrogen rates
  • Study of effects of rate and timing of a pre-harvest glyphosate application on seed germination and quality of malting barley
  • Study of effect of plant growth regulator application on yield and quality of malting barley
  • Development of improved cultural practices to increase malting barley production in eastern Canada
  • Study of effects of digestibility of barley cell wall polysaccharides on viscosity and filterability of wort

Pulse Research

Overview

This program investigates factors that contribute to the overall quality of pulses, which includes studying the role of grading, processing, environmental and genetic factors in determining pulse quality and end-use functionality. It also develops research methods for measuring and assessing pulse end-use quality and functionality.

Relevance to industry

This program provides scientific support to the Canadian Grain Commission’s development of grading standards for pulses and to the Annual Quality Survey, which provides data on the intrinsic and end-use quality of Canadian pulses and food-type soybeans.

Activities and research
  • Measures and assesses pulse end-use quality and functionality
  • Conducts annual pulse and food-type soybean quality survey in support of the annual Harvest Sample Program
  • Takes part in the Canadian Grain Commission’s monitoring of export cargo shipments
  • Develops methods for measuring functional properties in pulse ingredients (flours, protein, and starch fractions)
  • Investigates the effects of variety and growing location on composition and functionality of fababean fractions by air classification

Bread and Durum Wheat Research

Overview

The overall goal of this program is to support the Canadian wheat quality assurance system by

  • providing the scientific basis for Canadian wheat grade specifications
  • supporting the new variety registration process
  • monitoring the quality of export wheat cargoes
  • developing new methods for measuring quality
  • understanding the physiochemical and biochemical basis for quality in wheat and durum
Relevance to industry

This program

  • provides the scientific basis for updating or maintaining tolerances for each grading factor in wheat and durum
  • evaluates the quality of new wheat lines to assess their eligibility for designated wheat classes
  • supports the marketing of Canadian wheat by generating information on the characteristics of new crop quality
Activities and research
  • Determines the effects of various grading factors such as sprouting, frost, fusarium, mildew, wheats of other classes, hard vitreous kernels, test weight, etc. on the quality of wheat and durum
  • Generates quality data sets by analyzing various harvest sample aggregates based on class, grade, crop region, variety, and grading factors
  • Monitors the quality of wheat cargoes at export and investigates cargo complaints
  • Evaluates quality of new wheat lines before registration and identifies new varieties eligible for the Canadian Grain Commission’s variety designation lists
  • Develops new methods or modifies existing ones to measure end-use quality more effectively, efficiently and using a smaller sample size
  • Identifies and characterizes biochemical components responsible for wheat quality
  • Investigates the structure and composition of gluten proteins in relation to dough strength and extensibility
  • Assesses protease activity associated with certain grading factors
  • Develops rapid screening protocols for wheat lines with partial waxy starch properties and lines with the late-maturity alpha amylase trait

Oilseeds

Overview

This program conducts research on factors that contribute to the quality of products made from oilseeds and into seed factors that could affect the quality of these products. It also develops new and improved methods to analyze minor and major components in oilseeds.

Relevance to industry

This program conducts quality monitoring programs using samples from the annual Harvest Sample Program and samples taken at export. It also analyzes oilseed factors to give domestic and export customers of Canadian oilseeds an indication of each year’s crop quality.

Activities and research
  • Conducts cargo monitoring to assess the quality of exported oilseeds
  • Determines grading factors using an unbiased, scientific approach
  • Develops rapid, accurate, repeatable, and reproducible analytical methods to assess oilseed quality to segregate and market Canadian oilseeds
  • Develops reference methods to analyze minor oilseed components and works to understand how oilseed components affect quality
  • Evaluates the quality of canola varieties prior to registration
  • Conducts quality analyses on individual and aggregate samples from the annual Harvest Sample Program

Technology programs: analysis, monitoring and research

Trace Organics and Trace Elements Analysis (TOTE)

Overview

This program is responsible for research and monitoring related to pesticides, mycotoxins, fungal biomarkers, and elemental analysis (including heavy metals) in grain. It also develops, evaluates and validates analytical methods and monitors samples from the Harvest Sample Program and grain export shipments. Research focuses on how factors such as sampling, processing, agronomic practices, and environmental conditions affect the presence of pesticides, mycotoxins, heavy metals and other elements, and fungal biomarkers such as ergosterol in grain.

Relevance to industry

This program directly supports a number of Canadian Grain Commission activities and helps the Canadian grain industry on topics related to grain safety. This program also generates data for issuing Statements of Assurance for cargo monitoring.

Activities and research
  • Provides a scientific basis for a number of grading factors, including Fusarium-damaged kernels and ergot for the Harvest Sample Program
  • Monitors how tolerance levels for grading factors manage the presence of mycotoxins in Canadian grain
  • Assesses trends in the occurrence of pesticides, mycotoxins, trace elements, and heavy metals in grain over time or across geographic regions
  • Analyzes grain that is suspected to be contaminated so the Canadian Grain Commission and private grain companies can identify contaminated grain and prevent it from entering the grain handling system
  • Continuously updates its methods to include new analytes and incorporate new techniques and technologies that increase sensitivity and throughput of analyses
  • Uses high-resolution mass spectrometry to rapidly identify mycotoxins and pesticides, as well as their degradation products, in grain
  • Examines what happens to pesticides, mycotoxins and heavy metals (such as glyphosate, ergot alkaloids and cadmium) during the processing of cereals and pulses
  • Determines best practices for sampling grains for analysis
  • Surveys the geographic distribution of cadmium in oilseeds

Grain Biotechnology

Overview

This program develops and evaluates DNA-based methods for identifying and quantifying genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in grains and oilseeds. It also verifies protein-based methods to determine if they are suitable for detecting GMOs, monitors export wheat shipments for wheats of other classes and ineligible varieties, and provides varietal purity certification of malting barley cargoes.

Relevance to industry

This program is ISO 17025-accredited to carry out GMO testing using real-time polymerase chain reaction (PCR). This program provides necessary information to the industry to meet export requirements and monitors variety composition of export cargoes as a key element of grain quality assurance.

Activities and research
  • Collaborates with other institutions (such as the United States Department of Agriculture’s Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration) to develop and verify GMO testing methods
  • Explores the use of digital PCR for measuring the quantity of genetically modified material in a given sample
  • Evaluates fast, new technologies related to DNA extraction and assessment of GMOs for convenience, cost-effectiveness, sensitivity and accuracy
  • Supports the annual Harvest Sample Program and the Canadian Grain Commission’s grain inspection services with more advanced technologies to look at differences in DNA sequences that are characteristic among varieties; the program’s reference database currently contains DNA profiles of over 800 wheat and barley varieties

Microbiology and Grain Genomics

Overview

This program is responsible for research and monitoring of pathogenic, quarantine and toxigenic microorganisms, such as moulds and bacteria, associated with Canadian grain and products made from Canadian grain. This program develops new tools and employs new technologies for the detection, identification and characterization of these microorganisms and uses genomics to establish new tests for crop variety identification and monitoring.

Relevance to industry

This program supports the maintenance and updating of grading factors and tolerances linked to microorganisms, such as ergot, Fusarium damage, mildew, smudge and sclerotinia. The program also develops new methods and explores new technologies for grain variety identification.

Activities and research
  • Explores genome sequencing, high-throughput PCR and droplet digital PCR to identify microbes in grain crop varieties in pure and mixed (bulked) samples
  • Supports the maintenance and updating of grading factors and tolerances linked to microorganisms
  • Conducts an annual survey of Fusarium species and toxin types on samples submitted by producers through the Harvest Sample Program
  • Monitors and carries out surveillance of high-risk pathogenic, quarantine and toxigenic microorganisms in exported grain
  • Collaborates with other Grain Research Laboratory and/or government programs, academia, and the grain industry to analyze biological factors that cause plant diseases in the field and that spoil stored or processed grain
  • Investigates how agronomics, environment and processing affect microbial communities naturally associated with crops and grain products

Analytical Services

Overview

This program is responsible for collecting and receiving samples, performing a variety of different analytical techniques on the samples, and collating their data.

Relevance to industry

This program helps the grain industry fulfill contract specifications for the Canadian Grain Commission’s Certificate Final.

Activities and research
  • Plays a major role in the annual Harvest Sample Program, plant breeder trial evaluations, cargo monitoring and submitted sample analysis
  • Provides timely and relevant grain quality data and generates key quality information for the domestic grain industry
  • Responsible for the Combustion Nitrogen Analysis method, which is the Canadian Grain Commission reference method for protein content
  • Performs fast and efficient tests with a focus on enhancing the grading of specific quality parameters such as gluten quality, as well as mildew and frost damage
  • Provides analytical testing for the industry on quality and specification analysis as part of the submitted sample program
  • Monitors and maintains Canadian calibrations for Unified Grain Moisture Algorithm (UGMA) moisture meters and model 919/3.5” moisture meters
  • Manages and oversees check sample programs for protein, falling number and moisture for stakeholders
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