Scientists and engineers with the Agricultural Research Service of the U.S. Department of Agriculture said they have developed a better way to perform “falling number” tests, a key factor in determining grain quality. Falling number is a procedure used to characterize the suitability of wheat for processing into bread, noodles, crackers and cakes.

Steve Delwiche, an agricultural engineer with the ARS, worked with his team at the Food Quality Laboratory in Beltsville to experiment with falling number in a low-pressure chamber. The researchers said they were able to develop a more precise method so that falling number results may be expressed at equivalent laboratory conditions.

“Barometric pressure variation caused by laboratory land elevation and local weather patterns means that the thermal conditions of this test can vary, as can the reported FN,” the ARS said. “Depending on the land elevation of the laboratory performing the FN test, some lots on the margin may fall above the specification, but when evaluated at a different laboratory, for example downriver at a sea terminal, the result may fall on the other side. This can lead to uncertainty and inefficiency in the market system. Commonly, lots with FN below 300 seconds are discounted by 25¢ per bushel. A new mathematical correction addresses this variation problem.”

The ARS said the USDA’s Federal Grain Inspection Service on May 1 began implementing the correction in a new release of its directive on falling number. The American Association of Cereal Chemists International also has amended its “approved method” on falling number as an optional correction, the ARS said.

The agency said the new calculation correction will allow for more accurate management of wheat consignments, which may result in millions of dollars of savings for growers affected by low falling number wheat.