What is Hagberg falling number? 

The Hagberg falling number (HFN) is a term that is used to measure the enzyme activity in flour. It was developed in Sweden originally, and it is used to describe the number of seconds it takes for a plunger to fall through a mix of wheat flour in water. If the plunger falls quickly, it means that the starch has been converted to sugar. However, if the plunger falls slowly, the mixture is thick with starch. Millers will reject bread that has a low HFN value. This is because it is sticky and, therefore, it clogs slicing machines. Typically, when it comes to breadmaking, HFN values below 250 are not accepted. With that being said, this is a really important part of the process when it comes to breadmaking. Here is our quick guide to the Hagberg falling number and what you need to know.

The Hagberg falling number explained

The Hagberg falling number is the measure of a-amylase, which is a certain type of enzyme. This enzyme will attack the molecules of starch, breaking them down into sugars. This will create the gas that gives a good loaf of bread structure and air pockets. For dough stickiness and starch breakdown to be limited as much as possible, levels of alpha-amylase need to be low. A high Hagberg falling number indicates that there is a low amount of a-amylase activity, which means it is a good protein for baking.

For the bread-baking process, falling numbers over 250 seconds are the most suitable. However, if you have a Hagberg falling number that is above 350 seconds, this indicates the flour needs to be supplemented with some type of amylolytic enzyme or with malted grain flours. The vast majority of the large-scale bakeries will work with an ideal range between 250 and 280 seconds. 

The Hagberg falling number test

The Hagberg falling number test is used in the baking sector to assess the following:

  • Upgrades/establishment of specification for flours at receipt, for example, enzymatic activity and starch damage

  • Machinability and dough-handling problems during processing

  • Its effect on water absorption (water binding capacity)

  • Crop-year changeovers and selection of wheat flour suppliers

  • Enzymatic activity in wheat flour

  • Sprout damage in wheat kernels

What are the main causes of low Hagberg falling numbers?

Now that you have a good idea regarding what Hagberg falling number is, we now need to establish the different reasons why farmers may experience low Hagberg falling numbers. One of the main reasons why this happens is because of an uneven crop and lodging results in pre-harvest sprouting. This highlights why it is imperative to make sure that lodging does not delay the ripening and harvesting of the crop. 

How can you increase the Hagberg falling number?

Hagberg falling number is imperative in determining whether wheat is suitable for bread making. Therefore, it is imperative to manage this and put steps in place to ensure that the Hagberg falling number of your wheat is going to be high enough in order to be accepted by millers. There are a number of different things that you can do to make sure this is the case. This includes crop nutrition management, especially for potassium and nitrogen. This will help increase Hagberg falling numbers.

As mentioned earlier, one of the main reasons why people experience low Hagberg falling numbers is because of pre-harvest sprouting. The agronomic principles that help towards preventing these issues are utilising the optimum nutrient rates. Moreover, precision farming is required so that the variable soil nitrogen supply is managed. Of all the major nutrients, potassium and nitrogen are critical when it comes to getting crops that are even and have a strong straw that will keep standing. 

How does Potassium influence the Hagberg falling number?

One of the main things that has a massive impact on the Hagberg falling number is potassium. Adequate available potassium is a must when it comes to ensuring that high-quality marketable grain is produced with good specific weight and well-filled grains. Premature ripening occurs when there is a shortage. This will result in a significantly lower weight and individual grain size. It can also stop some possible grain sites from developing. Therefore, this means that a lack of potassium will reduce the number of grains per ear.

In addition to this, potassium also plays a vital role when it comes to the prevention of lodging and straw stiffness. Lodged crops are more likely to suffer from sprouting leading and ripen unevenly - both of which cause lower Hagberg falling numbers. 

How do nitrogen rates impact the Hagberg falling number?

Nitrogen is one of the most important nutrients that will help you to achieve optimal application rates across all field areas. It is crucial for making sure there is an even crop at harvest. Therefore, you need to make sure that you have an accurate plan in place for the management of nitrogen. You also need to take extreme care to ensure the precise application of nitrogen through the use of correct equipment calibration.

Variable nitrogen application can be used to progress the evenness of the crop while ripening, which is critical for the Hagberg falling number. This will account for the uneven soil nitrogen supply that is apparent in many fields. There are a number of different factors that can have an impact on the variation in soil nitrogen supply, for example, previous field cropping history, organic manure use, and different soil types.

So, there you have it: everything you need to know about the Hagberg falling number. Hopefully, you will now have a better understanding of what this is and the different steps that you can take in order to keep the Hagberg falling number high and your bread fit for purpose.

Owen Parry