Grain quality research for cereals and oilseeds

From understanding grain quality components to the publication of variety performance data for key quality parameters, AHDB research provides robust information to guide crop management and help farmers meet market specifications.

The grain quality challenge

Across the diverse markets for cereals and oilseeds, there are numerous measures of quality. Some measures have remained unchanged for decades, whereas others continue to change. Additionally, crop genetics and the environment (in the field and in grain stores) influence quality. Consequently, grain quality is relatively complex. In fact, grain quality can be highly variable – even across an individual ear.

AHDB research focuses on:

  • Investment in crop genetics, including the provision of variety performance data for key quality parameters (via the Recommended Lists)
  • Monitoring specific aspects of grain quality, such as mycotoxins
  • Understanding the influence of agronomy on crop quality (e.g. disease and nutrients)

Current grain quality research activity*

Recommended Lists for cereals and oilseed (RL)

To help grain realise financial premiums, where these are available, it is essential to select varieties with the potential to meet market specifications set by flour millers, maltsters, and others in the supply chain. Assessment of direct measures of grain quality – such as protein content (%), specific weight and Hagberg Falling Number in wheat – is a core part of the RL. The project also assesses elements that have an indirect impact on quality – such as disease resistance and lodging. Additionally, the RL facilitates the introduction of new quality traits, through specialist categories, where necessary, to maintain or enhance access to markets for grain, both in the UK and overseas.

AHDB Recommended Lists for cereals and oilseeds (2021–26)

Monitoring contaminants in UK cereals

AHDB is highly valued for its independent work on monitoring agri-chemical residues and contaminants. Conducted since the mid-1980s in the UK, the latest project phase involves annual surveys of mycotoxins (e.g. DON, ZON, T2/HT2, OTA and ergot alkaloids) and other contaminants (e.g. pesticides, heavy metals, CIPC and PAHs). Data is collected from representative commercial samples of UK-grown and imported wheat, barley and oats and co-products (wheatfeed and oatfeed). Based on harvest 2020 results, no samples exceeded the maximum levels for mycotoxins. Over 400 pesticides and seven metals (including four regulated metals) were analysed, with no maximum residue level (MRL) exceedances detected. This project helps to provide customer confidence and quantitative reference points for industry data. It also helps the supply chain prepare for changes to legislation.

Monitoring of contaminants in UK cereals used for processing food and animal feed

Fusarium resistance in oats

As a result of Fusarium langsethiae infection, mycotoxins HT2 and T2 have been identified at high levels in UK winter oat grains, even though the plants display no visible symptoms. Differences in the susceptibility of oats to infection are genetic, rather than cultural. In general, spring oat varieties accumulate less HT2 and T2 than winter varieties, and dwarf varieties tend to accumulate more than taller ones.

This PhD project is analysing the genetics of experimental lines derived from Buffalo (short and susceptible) and Tardis (tall and resistant) parentage. Preliminary results suggest a negative relationship between mycotoxin concentration and height. However, when other factors, such as year and drilling season, are included in the model, height alone no longer influences the HT2 and T2 accumulation. These findings demonstrate further work is required to dissect earliness and height from one another. The project is also developing a robust inoculation method to infect oats with the pathogen.

Identification of fusarium resistance within UK oat breeding lines (PhD)

Variation in grain protein content and quality

A major determinant of wheat processing quality is the quantity and properties of grain gluten proteins. This PhD project is using replicated field trials, over three years in three different environments, to study such proteins in wheat populations with Malacca (average grain protein content) and Hereward (high grain protein content, high stability) in their parentage. Tests for grain quality include analysing grain protein composition and measuring metabolites, such as sucrose, maltose and raffinose, which also impact baking quality. The studentship has already identified indicators associated with protein content. Required for the synthesis of proteins, such as gluten, nitrogen is another key grain-quality component. Because of the high protein content needed for making bread (13%), the requirement for nitrogen applied to wheat may be above the optimum for yield – by up to 50 kg nitrogen/ha. Through an improved understanding of the genetic components of grain quality, it is hoped that this studentship will help plant breeders develop varieties with increased quality stability.

Exploiting variation in grain protein content and quality to determine effects of environment on processing quality

Cereal Quality Survey

The annual AHDB Cereal Quality Survey looks at the key parameters of wheat and barley quality for the most recent harvest.

Access the latest Cereal Quality Survey results

Other grain quality research projects

Grain quality is influenced by many factors, such as disease, nutrients and varieties.

Disease research for cereals and oilseeds

Nutrient research for cereals and oilseeds

Variety research for cereals and oilseeds

Recently completed projects

GrowSave (an energy efficiency platform): Grain drying technology review

All grain quality research projects

Information on all grain quality research projects is available in our research archive:

  • In the ‘Sector’ drop-down box, select ‘Cereals & Oilseeds’
  • In the ‘Topic’ drop-down box, select ‘Quality and safety’

Visit our research archive

Recent grain quality research articles

Latest Recommended Lists features a record number of variety traits

Barley specific weight pulled apart by PhD