Risks of adding water to grain after harvest

Canada’s reputation as a reliable supplier of high-quality grain has been carefully built by producers and grain companies. Adding water to grain after harvest can cause it to deteriorate during transit and storage, which can jeopardize grain quality and grain safety. We do not recommend that producers add water to grain after harvest prior to delivering in order to maintain Canada’s reputation as a reliable supplier of high-quality grain.

Frequently asked questions

  • 1. What are the general effects of adding water to grain?

    Adding water to grain can cause it to go out of condition. It also may conceal the grain’s true characteristics, as moisture content cannot be accurately determined and effectively managed when water is added to grain after harvest and prior to delivering to an elevator.

    Increased moisture will also encourage the growth of microbes, bacteria, fungi and mould. If the water comes from a dugout, well or storage tank, it may also contain and introduce contaminants. These can:

    • cause grain spoilage and degradation
    • reduce grain quality
    • make the grain unsafe for human or animal consumption

    Adding water may pose additional risks to different types of grain. Effects that are specific to wheat, barely, canola, flaxseed and pulses are listed in following answers.

  • 2. What are the risks of adding water to wheat?

    Adding water to wheat can cause higher levels of moisture content, which can cause wheat to spoil and generate heat when stored at a moisture content higher than recommended. If wheat isn’t handled and stored properly, high moisture hot spots may pop up, which can lead to premature sprouting and ultimately reduce grain quality. Wheat with high moisture content can also be a concern for export customers in humid climates.

    Additional heat and moisture may have effects on end-use quality, including reduced functionality in baking. It can reduce wheat milling quality by creating problems in the tempering process, which involves adding an appropriate amount of water to wheat to achieve desired milling moisture. Moulds can also cause a general darkening of the wheat and impact flour quality and appearance.

  • 3. What are the risks of adding water to barley?

    Externally applied water can cause the barley to germinate. Germination, once begun, causes irreversible changes in the grain. Pre-germinated grain may lose germination energy when in storage. Maltsters require a high level of germination in barley, usually with germination energy of at least 95%.

  • 4. What are the risks of adding water to canola?

    Canola has lower water absorption, so watering canola often results in water staying on the outside layer of the grain, which supports mould and bacteria growth. Added water can also cause mycotoxins to slowly migrate into the seed, which can affect the meal.

    During storage, water on the surface of the seed can also lead to seed germination, a grading factor for canola since it leads to high free fatty acid content. If there are higher pockets of moisture, the first step in crushing is also less efficient and leads to lower oil yields. Wet seeds are also hard to de-hull, leading to lower oil yields.

  • 5. What are the risks of adding water to flaxseed?

    Adding water to flaxseed will cause high bacteria counts and will be a problem for milling and storage. There will also be oxidation and the seeds will go rancid easily.

    Food flax has very tight specifications for appearance, colour and quality. Adding water to flaxseed makes it less likely to be selected and graded as food flax. Crushing flaxseed when wet is also likely to reduce the oil yield and the oil may have higher levels of free fatty acids.

  • 6. What are the risks of adding water to pulses?

    Adding water to pulses affects storage life and can lead to germination during storage, which affects pulse quality. Pulses cannot be stored for long if the moisture content is above the recommended level for storage.

    Adding water also affects the dry milling process for the separation of pulse flours into protein and starch concentrates. It may also cause pulse seeds to become wrinkly.

  • 7. Why do some people choose to add water to grain?

    Someone may add water to grain to increase the weight and moisture content of their grain at delivery. This may have many negative side effects that impact the safety and end-use quality of the grain. We do not recommend that producers add water to grain after harvest and prior to delivering in order to maintain Canada’s reputation as a reliable supplier of high-quality grain.

  • 8. Is adding water to grain illegal? What is the Canadian Grain Commission’s role in regulating this practice?

    Although the Canada Grain Act does not explicitly prohibit adding water to grain, several sections are applicable to elevator operators and to producers:

    • under section 58, an elevator is not obliged to receive grain that is or is likely to go out of condition
      • Adding water to grain may potentially cause grain to go out of condition
    • under section 104(c), elevators are prohibited from receiving grain that is infested or contaminated
      • Adding water to grain may potentially cause grain to become infested or contaminated
    • section 105(c) prohibits producers from offering their grain for sale or storage, or for official inspection, if it is ‘treated, mixed or dealt with as to conceal its true characteristics’
      • The application of water can conceal a grains’ true characteristics, as moisture content cannot be accurately determined when water is added to grain
    • section 105(d) prohibits producers from delivering grain that is infested or contaminated
      • Adding water to grain may potentially cause grain to become infested or contaminated

    As a result, grain elevators who determine that grain has been watered can and should refuse these deliveries.

  • 9. What are the consequences if someone is found to be watering grain?

    Grain elevators who determine that grain has been watered can and should refuse these deliveries.

    Producers who water grain may be found to be in contravention of sections 58, 104 and 105 of the Canada Grain Act.

  • 10. What can I do if I suspect someone has added water to grain?

    If a grain company suspects they’ve received a shipment of grain with water added, please inform the closest Canadian Grain Commission office.

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