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Maximum residue limits in cereals - customer expectations

By: Mitchell Japp, PAg, Provincial Specialist, Cereal Crops

Wheat field
Team Canada has been travelling the globe, proudly wearing the maple leaf on their backs. This Team Canada does not represent Canada in sports; rather, for the past two years they have been talking to Canada’s wheat customers.

Cereals Canada, the Canadian International Grains Institute (Cigi) and the Canadian Grain Commission (CGC) have teamed up to represent the entire wheat value chain when talking with customers of Canadian wheat.

While Team Canada has been talking about Canadian wheat on these missions, they are also listening. They have found that customers appreciate the quality of wheat coming from Canada and they expect that high quality to continue. Part of that expectation is grain that has tolerable chemical residue levels.

Maximum residue limits (MRLs) are set by importing countries based on the toxicity and the amount of product consumed. In cereals, as in other crops, MRLs may be exceeded where:

  • A product MRL has not been established by an importing country;
  • Product label requirements are not followed, such as rates, crop staging or an appropriate pre-harvest interval; or
  • Product-specific requirements exist beyond the label.

Some examples will help illustrate these different types of MRL issues.

Chlormequat chloride (the active ingredient in Manipulator and Cyclocel Extra) is a plant growth regulator that recently had a label expansion to spring wheat (for Manipulator only; this does not include durum) in Canada. Although it is commonly used in Europe, the United States does not have this product registered. The United States has also not developed an MRL for imported grain, so the tolerance levels are zero. Grain buyers started warning producers about market restrictions in 2015. Check with your grain buyer before any application.

Glyphosate is often used as pre-harvest weed control in wheat production. Unfortunately, a myth continues to exist that glyphosate is a desiccant in wheat – glyphosate is not a desiccant. Glyphosate applications must be made after all heads have reached maturity, which is a challenge when tillers come on late or some areas of the field are delayed. When applied too early, glyphosate will accumulate in the seed, which is undesirable to customers. It is important to follow the product label.

Some buyers have specific requirements for their purchased grain that may exceed label requirements. Malt barley growers are generally familiar with these types of restrictions. Although pre-harvest glyphosate is allowable on the label, it would be a challenge to sell any malt barley that had been treated with pre-harvest glyphosate. In 2015, milling oats treated with pre-harvest glyphosate was added to this type of restriction for one miller. The 2016 Guide to Crop Protection emphasizes that growers should check with their grain buyer before pre-harvest application on malt barley or milling oats – it is a good recommendation.

Growers will likely be asked to sign a declaration about some products. It will be important for growers to read that declaration and understand its implications. Growers can best avoid MRL issues by:

  • Becoming familiar with the Keep it Clean Cereals campaign;
  • Reading and following label requirements; and
  • Being diligent about talking with grain buyers before a product is used – especially new chemistries, new products or products on new crops.

Canada has built a strong reputation and brand on producing high-quality grains for market. Customer expectations are high and competitors are always striving to get an edge in the marketplace. So, it is important for producers, and the industry as a whole, to continue to produce extremely high-quality product.

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