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 in 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:
- Improve the Hagberg-Perten Falling Number (FN) test
- Examine alternatives to the FN test.
- Improve preharvest sprouting resistance.
- Breed for late maturity alpha-amylase resistance.
- 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.