Farmers demand action on moisture testers

Frustrated producers insist that testing standards have changed, which is costing them a significant amount of money

A growing number of prairie farmers say the Canadian Grain Commission must take a closer look at grain moisture standards to ensure that growers aren’t being unfairly penalized at the elevator.

The first question that needs to be answered? Why is grain that tests dry in a properly calibrated 919-type tester no longer considered dry when it’s delivered to the elevator?

Another pressing question: has the adoption of newer UGMA-type testers by some grain companies resulted in tighter moisture standards for growers?

“The standards have changed,” said one frustrated producer, who asked that his name be withheld to avoid tensions with his grain buyer.

“What was considered dry in a 919 tester 20 years ago is not considered dry today. And it’s costing farmers a lot of money.”

Over the past few years, some farmers have expressed concerns with what they perceive as more stringent moisture standards on grain deliveries.

At the centre of the frustrations are apparent discrepancies in moisture readings from 919-type moisture testers and newer UGMA-type testers.

The grain commission says the two types of testers use different technologies to generate a moisture reading. They also say both testers are acceptable as long as they’re properly maintained and calibrated.

But farmers who spoke with The Western Producer recently say adoption of UGMA style testers by grain companies has coincided with higher moisture readings in grain that has historically been considered dry.

The upshot is that an increasing number of prairie farmers have been forced to pay unexpected grain drying charges or contract penalties.

Greg Putnam, a Saskatchewan farmer who’s been growing and selling grain for more than 40 years, is among those who wants the CGC to look into the issue.

This year, Putnam harvested about 50,000 bushels of malt barley on his farm near Watson, Sask.

Putnam and his crew tested the barley for moisture as it was coming off the field using a recently calibrated 919-type tester. The grain consistently tested in the range of 13.2 to 13.6 percent moisture.

For decades, a reading of 13.5 percent moisture on a 919-type tester has been considered dry for harvested barley.

Putnam said he even took samples to another company that uses 919-type grain testers to verify moisture content.

Those readings were consistent with Putnam’s other tests, in the range of 13.2 to 13.6 percent moisture.

But when Putnam started delivering against a 33,000 bushel malt barley contract that he had signed with another buyer, the moisture readings of his grain were nearly a full percentage point higher. The higher readings were generated by a UGMA type tester.

Facing a potential drying and conditioning charge of 20 cents per bushel, or $6,600 for the entire contract, Putnam disputed the UGMA test results.

Together, he and the barley buyer collected a sample and sent it away to a third-party testing facility. The third-party readings were slightly lower that the buyers’ UGMA readings, but still more than half a point higher than Putnam’s original readings from a 919.

Putnam’s barley buyer eventually agreed to waive the drying fees but the episode highlighted the fact that grain moisture testing can be an inexact and potentially costly science.

The grower who spoke anonymously to The Western Producer suggested that questionable grain-drying charges at the elevator cost his farm an estimated $20,000 last year.

Industry-wide, growers could be paying millions of dollars annually in unexpected and unjustified conditioning fees, he added.

Putnam said it’s time for the CGC to take a look at why grain that was considered dry a decade or two ago is no longer considered dry.

Regardless of whether grain companies are using new UGMA technology or the more-widely adopted 919 technology, grain that was considered dry 20 years ago should still be considered dry today.

“I know they’re saying that the new (UGMA) machines test in a different way, but there’s still been a change in the moisture standard,” Putnam said.

“The moisture standard for barley has been consistent for many years now and I was under the impression… that any major change in grading status or quality standards has to go through a vetting process that involves not only the industry but also producers,” he said.

“What’s happened here (the adoption of UGMA technology) is that there’s been a major change in moisture content standards without any consultation. And the grain commission, for some reason, seems to be ignoring this.”

Putnam described the perceived changes as “a huge thing to the industry on both sides.

“One, the grain companies are purchasing less moisture, less water, and two, on the producers’ side, we have to dry more grain … which is an extra cost to us,” he said.

Doug Chorney, acting chief commissioner at the CGC, said the grain commission is aware of the concerns and is watching to ensure that growers aren’t getting a raw deal.

Chorney said there are a wide number of factors that can influence grain moisture readings in a 919-type tester, ranging from inaccuracies in sample weights to grain temperature.

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