Researchers tackle toxic grain at feed centre

Researchers at the University of Saskatchewan’s agriculture college have teamed up with the Global Institute for Food Security to look for ways to remove harmful mycotoxins from grain samples.

Tom Scott, research chair in feed processing at the U of S, said the institute will contribute $1.5 million to a project aimed at identifying and removing mycotoxins caused by fusarium damaged kernels and ergot.

Commercial grain that contains mycotoxins must be blended off to ensure that levels fall below levels established by grain industry regulators.

The new research will take a new approach to dealing with toxic grain.

Instead of blending off infected grains, researchers will explore the possibility of removing them, kernel by kernel, using near infrared spectrometry and other technology.

The Canadian Feed Research Centre, a university-owned facility at North Battleford, Sask., has equipment capable of analyzing grain on a kernel by kernel basis.

The BoMill seed sorter can sort as many as 20,000 seeds per second using near infrared technology.

The machine has already been used on a test basis at the North Battleford facility and will be permanently installed later this year.

The $400,000 machine can analyze every seed in a sample according to moisture content, crude protein, starch profile, mineral content, bread making quality and malting quality.

Seeds that pass through the machine can be analyzed and divided into as many as three seed lots at a rate of three tonnes per hour.

If the application proves successful, the project could have significant implications for Canada’s grain and livestock feed industries, which handle hundreds of tonnes of ergot and fusarium infected grain a year.

“During fusarium infection in the field, the disease attacks specific kernels and stops protein deposition or lowers protein deposition in those kernels,” said Scott.

“So those kernels that come out infected with fusarium are the kernels that are potentially producing mycotoxins.

“The seed sorter that we have … uses near infrared spectrometry to estimate crude protein of individual kernels of wheat, barley and durum.”

Scott said preliminary studies suggest removing 10 to 20 percent of the lowest protein kernels will result in samples that fall below established mycotoxin thresholds.

Additional research will be conducted using colour sorters and another newly patented fusarium technology that was developed in Winnipeg.

The research centre in North Battleford is nearing completion and is hoped to be fully operational later this year.

It will conduct research that enhances the nutritional value of bulk feed stocks such as cereal grains, canola meal, pea hulls and dried distillers grain.

Its equipment will include hammer mills, roller mills, flakers, screening machines, mixers, cooking and conditioning equipment, extruders, pelleters and vacuum coaters, which allow researchers to use complex processing techniques and optimize the nutritional components found in raw feed stocks.

Other research to be conducted at the facility will look at improving the porosity of livestock pellets, using steam flaked peas in dairy rations and enhancing the consistency of feeds such as DDGs and canola meal, whose quality and nutritional characteristics can vary significantly from one batch to the next.

Scott said the completed plant will be a world-class facility capable of conducting complex feed research.

The centre also includes an industrial scale processing line that can produce commercial quantities of processed feed that were formulated and tested on a research scale.

“We have one of the plants worldwide that I’m aware of that has the capacity to take research from the pilot scale to the industrial scale,” Scott said.

“That is a very unique feature … because there’s always been concerns that research that’s conducted on smaller equipment … doesn’t necessarily apply when it’s done in a commercial setting. I’ve never been in a more complex facility.… It’s all about being able to formulate diets consistently and accurately.”

Public investment in the centre was originally estimated at $13.3 million, but construction of the plant and installation of equipment will come in over budget, Scott said.

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