- Fortunately in 2017, nature dealt the region some kindness and the widespread low falling numbers (FNs) of 2016 were a rare event. Economic losses to the grain industry in 2016 alone exceeded $30 million and likely approached $140 million in total after all export and seed industry costs were totaled. In response, grain industry representatives, including wheat commissioners, growers, millers, bakers, exporters, scientists, and extension personnel met at a Falling Numbers Summit in Spokane on Feb. 16, 2017 to share current knowledge, determine where more knowledge is needed, and develop priorities for action. An initial report of progress was shared on May 31, 2017, at the Western Wheat Workers meeting in Corvallis OR.
The two causes of low FNs in wheat grain are: 1) preharvest sprouting or germination on the mother plant due to rain before harvest, and 2) late maturity alpha-amylase (LMA) due to heat or cold shock during grain development. Wheat grain must meet a minimum of 300 seconds in the FN test in order to be considered of good quality. Although low FN was rarer in 2017 than 2016, low FNs have cost western farmers millions of dollars since 2011 and the problem remains a major concern. At the Falling Numbers Summit, the work was divided into five areas:
1. Improve the Hagberg-Perten Falling Number (FN) test
2. Examine alternatives to the FN test.
3. Improve preharvest sprouting resistance.
4. Breed for late maturity alpha amylase resistance.
5. Improve Communication.
Drs. Camille Steber, Craig Morris, Alecia Kiszonas and Kim Garland Campbell, all with the USDA-ARS in Pullman, prepared a written progress report based on the information presented in May titled, “Falling Number Update, Western Wheat Workers, Corvallis OR, May 31, 2017“. Much testing has been conducted this summer, so another progress report is expected in November.
Additional information on low FNs can be found on the Grain Quality Resources page.
For questions or comments, contact Kim Garland Campbell by email at email@example.com.
In 2016, Washington state wheat farmers experienced widespread problems with low Falling Numbers, for which we created our Grain Quality Resources page. The widespread low Falling Number issue was partly due to Late Maturity Alpha-Amylase (LMA) in response to wildly fluctuating temperatures about one month after pollen shedding. The high temperatures in the 90s on May 30 followed by high temperatures in the 60s has some farmers worried that we’re going to see a repeat of last year’s Falling Number fiasco. Such worries are premature because the wheat hasn’t yet reached the point where it is sensitive to fluctuating temperatures.
It is difficult to pinpoint the window of LMA-sensitivity for this year’s crop because it depends on when the wheat reached pollen-shedding, an event that depends on temperature and varies by variety. Wheat in central Washington reached pollen-shedding during the week following Memorial Day, while wheat further east is just starting to head.
Based on this, we guesstimate that wheat in central Washington may become LMA-sensitive during the last two weeks of June, while wheat further to the east may become LMA-sensitive within the first two weeks of July.