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Frequently Asked Questions about Low-Falling Number Wheat


Why does the elevator discount my low-falling number wheat?


The low-falling number test was developed to test for starch activity.  If the starch has been damaged by pre-harvest sprout or temperature shock during kernel filling (late-maturity alpha-amalase or LMA), the functionality of the wheat is compromised and millers and end-users will not buy the wheat.


 Why is a low-falling number score of 300 seconds used as the measure of acceptable wheat?


 The USDA – Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) uses the following measures for starch activity in wheat:




Falling Number (sec.)

Indication of Starch Damage


No damage to starch


Some sprouting and other starch damage


Severe starch damage




What causes low-falling number wheat?


The two most common causes of low-falling number wheat are pre-harvest sprout and temperature shock during kernel filling (LMA).  There are other causes, as well, which are being researched.  This includes low protein content and smaller starch granules.


My wheat was not rained on, so why do I have low-falling number wheat?


Wheat is very sensitive to wide variations in temperature when starch is being laid down in the kernel, particularly 25-30 days past flowering.  Record low temperatures in Nez Perce, Lewis, Latah, and Idaho counties between June 12 and 19, 2016 may have impacted the quality of starch as the kernel was filling.  On June 12, the reported high temperature in Lewiston was 80 degrees and the low temperature was 44 degrees.  A record low of 42 degrees was reached on June 15.  Another day with wide fluctuations was June 17 with a high of 80 degrees and a low of 47 degrees.


How long has the low-falling number test been used?  How come I have never heard of it before?


After receiving inferior quality wheat in 1994, complaints by Asian customers led to the implementation of the low-falling number scores as one of the export specifications and FGIS grading standards.  The exporters in Portland have been using low-falling number equipment since that time.  For the past 20 years, wheat being exported has been held to the 300 minimum low-falling number standard.  On the domestic side, however, use of low-falling number equipment and scores did not become widely used until the pre-harvest sprouting that occurred in eastern Idaho in 2014.


In most years there are scattered low-falling number anomalies which are frequently handled by the elevator without any impact on the grower.  However, this year the amount of wheat affected is so large that the elevators are having trouble assembling shippable quantities of wheat with a falling number score above 300 seconds, causing elevators to discount growers more widely than before.


Information on low-falling number wheat and the low falling number test can be found at the following link:




Can my wheat be blended?


Tests conducted by University of Idaho researchers have demonstrated that just one kernel of highly-sprouted wheat added to 2500 kernels of sound wheat reduced the falling number score by 100 seconds and turned the sample into “feed grade.”  Unlike protein differences, which can be blended in a 1:1 ration to get an average value, LMA and sprout-damaged wheat caused by enzyme activity is a logarithmic relationship making it very difficult to blend.  Growers who blend damaged grain with sound grain are taking a risk of making it all feed grade.


Will my falling number score be higher if I store the wheat and wait to market it?


Growers often ask about how storage affects falling number values.  The scientific evidence is mixed with some experiments suggesting falling number may be altered after storage but it isn’t consistently higher than when the wheat went into storage.


Is the falling number test accurate?




http://flamangraincleaning.com/image.php?image=/grain/images/gallery/1441127056SRCShakematic3.jpg&width=412&height=323&cropratio=412:323There is a significant variation in the test scores.  This is due primarily to the way the operator handles the sample and it may swing by as much as 30 points.  The Wheat Commission suggests growers have their wheat re-tested if is lower than 300 but higher than 270.  A re-test may move it high enough to make commercial grade.  FGIS testing offers the least variation due to consistent handling by the operator.  The FGIS test score is most credible because of the volume of tests and their consistency in handling. 


Are some varieties of wheat more susceptible to low-falling number scores than other varieties?


This is being studied but no clear pattern has been determined.  Nearly all varieties are affected this year, indicating climate and not variety, is responsible for the current low-falling number concern. 


What market options do I have for my low-falling number wheat this year? 


Growers should work with their elevator to find the best market.  If the falling number score is below 200, it should be segregated into feed channels immediately to avoid contaminating commercial grade supplies.  Feed channels are saturated due to abundant supplies of wheat on the world market so persistence is advised.


Elevators may be able to work with growers of wheat with falling number scores above 275.  How far each elevator is willing to dip below 300 for commercial channels depends on their contract with the exporter and the customer’s end product use.


Wheat between 200 and 270 will have the most variability in market channel.  Some may have to go into feed channels and some may find an export market where falling number scores are not an issue.  Flatbread markets in the Middle East are possibilities.  U.S. Wheat Associates is looking into Yemen and Bangladesh on behalf of PNW wheat growers.


Time, patience, and coming to terms with possible discounts are advised.


What research is being done to help work through this problem?


There are different causes of low-falling number wheat, and growers are being discounted for all causes, whether it affects end-use or not.  Idaho, Oregon and Washington have committed grower funds toward a milling stream study to find out if the end product changes depending upon the cause of low-falling number.  The hope is that a way to blend more wheat can be found, depending on the level of starch degradation.


In addition, the Idaho Wheat Commission has funded Dr. Amy Lin, a starch chemist, at the University of Idaho to pursue research into how starch quality is impacted by climate as it is being laid down in the kernel.  Her preliminary findings indicate that in some situations a low falling number occurs when starch is not degraded and therefore end-use quality is not diminished.


What are the prospects for disaster declarations and emergency assistance from appropriate agencies?


 IGPA met with the Director of the Idaho State Department of Agriculture and staff from Governor Otter’s office on August 9 and briefed them on the developing low falling numbers situation in Nez Perce, Lewis, Latah, and Idaho counties.  IGPA also had conversations with members of our federal congressional delegation.  While sympathetic, the sense is that little that can be done at this time to provide emergency assistance.  IGPA has been asked to keep these partners up to date throughout harvest, and will do so – and we will follow up immediately if any opportunities arise to offer relief.


 Will crop insurance cover my loss for low-falling number wheat?


 Falling number below 300 could result in a crop insurance claim.  Since the 2011 crop year, the Risk Management Agency implemented a Falling Number Discount Factor Table as an allowable quality adjustment for crop insurance.  Falling number between 200 and 299 have discount factors ranging from 5.2% to 15.7%.  The applicable discount factor is applied to bushels harvested and reduce the Production to Count for claims purposes.


Falling Numbers less than 200 fall into a Reduction in Value (RIV) procedure.  If the wheat is sold to a disinterested third party within 60 days of the end of the insurance period (prior to December 31), the discount factor will be the sum of RIVs (cash discounts applied by the buyer) divided by the local market price. If unsold on December 31 or later, or sold to other than a disinterested third party, then the discount factor is 50%.  Discount factors for multiple covered quality deficiencies can be combined except sprout damage and falling numbers discounts. 


Tuesday, August 16, 2016
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Growers’ help needed to improve crop insurance
Sprout damage from heavy rains in southern and eastern Idaho at the end of the 2014 growing season made evident the inadequacy of current crop insurance for wheat growers, which is based on yields and not quality.

USDA’s Risk Management Agency has expressed a willingness to make changes to the quality standard for wheat by addressing the low falling number scale, but the agency wants to address the issue nationwide and needs strong data to support any changes.
Growers can assist the effort by providing multiple years of settlement data, at least the last six years but preferable the last 10 to 12.

RMA does not need and would prefer not to receive growers’ names, addresses and tax ID numbers.

The data must contain: the year; county and state where the crop was grown (not sold/delivered); quality of production; gross price received; net payment (gross less any dockage, but not considering any storage or shipping fees); test weight; and protein.

In addition, the agency needs at least one of the following: DON/VOM; falling number; or other quality spec of interest.
Growers are asked to send info to Blaine Jacobson at blaine@idahowheat.org.