Three rules for grain marketers: test, test, test

On-line grain trading forum FarmLead has introduced a new grain testing platform designed to help farmers get maximum value for the grain they produce and sell.

GrainTests.com is an on-line service that gives farmers accessto grain testing labs across Canada and the United States.

Farmers who use the service select the lab of their choice, and specify the grain quality parameters they want tested.

Brennan Turner, president and chief executive officer of FarmLead, says the service is intended to give farmers a more accurate idea of what they are selling and what it’s worth.

To get the greatest value out of the grain they sell, farmers should no longer depend on grain buyer testing.

Also, growers should no longer be satisfied with selling their grain based on grade and protein.

Other factors such as falling number, hard vitreous kernels, vomitoxin levels and test weights can have a bearing in the value of the crop.

“If you’re trying to market your grain and you’re trying to find … the top price, those are factors that you need to know,” Turner said.

“The first rule of thumb (for grain growers) is knowing your cost of production and the second most important thing, in my mind, is knowing what your grain quality is.

“So we think, at the end of the day, that if you’re spending maybe $500 or $1,000 on grain tests to understand the quality of your (crop) … that investment across all of your acres of production is really insignificant.”

GrainTests.com gives growers direct access to the services of most of the major grain testing labs in Western Canada. Growers can order tests from any of the participating labs.

In Western Canada, those labs include SGS, Intertek, Biovision and 20/20 Seed Labs, among others.

U.S. testing services will be added later.

Turner said neither FarmLead nor GrainTests.com stand to make money from the on-line service.

GrainTests.com will process the orders and collect the lab fees but will remit 100 percent of the revenue to the selected labs on the farmer’s behalf.

There are no commissions or fees for administration. The only amount retained by GrainTests is a nominal fee aimed at covering the costs of credit card transactions.

“We just wanted to put this in a simple, convenient location where you can order tests from (your company of choice).”

Despite a litany of grain-marketing stories that end with the farmer getting hosed, many growers continue to cut corners when it comes to collecting and retaining accurate grain samples and having them tested for important quality parameters.

“A lot of farmers have the mentality where they’re content to continue with the status quo … where you send a sample to one or two or three grain buyers and wait to have them tell us what the quality and value of our grain is,” Turner said.

“Some guys don’t necessarily want to pay (to have their grain tested) but I think, especially in today’s marketing environment, that being able to have that independent assessment done kind of gives guys a bit more marketing power.”

Growers who have done their homework are also likely to get more prompt attention from grain buyers and will probably end up moving grain more quickly at better prices.

Turner acknowledged that proper sampling procedures must be used to avoid grading and valuation disputes.

Growers who sample properly and test their grain for quality can still take advantage of the Canadian Grain Commission’s services that are designed to settle grain grading disputes.

Turner said protein levels in malting barley will be an important factor to monitor this year, given that moisture levels during the growing season were low in many parts of the West.

In milling wheat and durum, test weights could be variable and warrant close attention.

There is speculation that much of this year’s higher quality wheat crop will be blended with remnants of last year’s crop, which was more abundant but of generally lower quality.

Fusarium pressures in this year’s milling wheat and durum crops are expected to be much lower than last year.

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