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Understanding grain quality

Buyers purchase small grains based on quality factors that indicate how these grains will perform or function in their intended end use. Uses a range from an animal feed ingredient to a food ingredient after milling, malting or other types of processing.

Grading standards and tests

Over the years, grading standards and tests based on physical and/or chemical characteristics have been developed to measure this end-use quality.

Official standards

The Federal Grain Inspection Service (FGIS) establishes and maintains the U.S. grain standards to provide uniform inspection.

View official standards and minimum requirements

The official grade includes:

  • Test weight.

  • Presence of foreign material or contrasting classes.

  • Damaged or shrunken kernels.

Additional quality tests

These official standards bind all elevators, which must use FGIS-approved methods when grading grain. Elevators often perform additional quality tests. These tests were added in response to specific market quality needs not currently addressed by the U.S. grain standards.

Although not part of the U.S. grain standards, FGIS prescribes approved methods for these quality tests. Examples include:

  • Moisture.

  • Protein.

  • Falling number.

  • Deoxynivalenol (DON).


If you dispute a quality test outcome used to determine your grain’s grade and quality, you can appeal and have FGIS or an FGIS-approved service provider test the sample. As the food processing industry becomes more competitive and automated, additional quality tests likely will be implemented to control processing and final product quality.

Crop-specific guidelines


Factors that impact grain quality


Brian Sorenson, former wheat quality specialist, North Dakota State University and Paul Schwarz, malting barley quality scientist, North Dakota State University

Reviewed in 2018

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