Alberta grain drying study looks for farmer participants

Producers have been “plagued by difficult harvests recently and on-farm grain drying has become a necessity in many areas of the province,” Lauren Comin, director of research for the Alberta Wheat Commission, said recently. | File photo

As part of one of the largest studies of its kind in Western Canada, scientists are looking for Alberta wheat farmers willing to take part in research into a problem that is increasingly affecting growers.

Producers have been “plagued by difficult harvests recently and on-farm grain drying has become a necessity in many areas of the province,” Lauren Comin, director of research for the Alberta Wheat Commission, said in a statement by Lethbridge College.

As a result, it is vital to improve the ability of farmers to artificially dry grain, said Chandra Singh, Applied Research Chair in Agricultural Engineering and Technology at the college’s Centre for Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

The results of the study could eventually be used across Canada to help the growers of other major cereal grains besides wheat, along with oilseeds and pulses. Canola is particularly vulnerable to spoilage because of its high oil content, said Singh in an interview.

Waiting for crops to dry naturally in fields increases the risk of farmers being caught by severe weather events such as rain or snow during harvesting, he said. The estimated total value of unharvested crops in Alberta due to such problems was $778 million in 2019.

“Such huge risks to the crops can be minimized by harvesting crops as soon as they reach maturity and grain can be artificially dried,” Singh said in the statement.

“However, inefficient drying can lead to grain spoilage, quality degradation, and excessive energy consumption, resulting in increased drying cost and high shrinkage due to over-drying. The technologies that we are exploring in this project could allow farmers to start harvesting earlier to minimize adverse weather effects and to better manage the in-storage grain with minimum spoilage risk.”

As part of the three-year study, researchers are looking for wheat producers with an on-farm grain drying and storage capacity of between 20,000 and 50,000 bushel bins, said the statement.

OPIsystems Inc., a Calgary based company that is a collaborator in the project, is offering a 20 percent discount on new systems and upgrades for farmers willing to participate in the trials, Singh said in an email.

“However, farmers can buy any grain monitoring and control system of their choice. We will work with any type of monitoring and aeration control, as long as we are provided remote access.”

Conditions such as moisture and temperature levels within storage bins will be tracked using wireless smart sensing technology.

The project seeks to include growers in the south, central, northeast, northwest and Peace regions of Alberta to get a full range of crop and climate conditions in the province, along with things such as agronomic practices, said Singh in the interview.

“For example, in south Alberta we have warmer weather. We start seeding early, we usually start harvesting early and we are usually finishing earlier than growers in the northeast region.”

The study could yield long-term environmental and economic benefits for Alberta’s producers, Clinton Dobson, research director of Results Driven Agriculture Research (RDAR), said in the statement.

“This can help to further enhance Alberta’s reputation as an exporter of high-quality grain to global markets.”

About 60 farms will take part in the $576,420 study, which is being funded by RDAR, as well as the Alberta Wheat Commission, Alberta Innovates, Canadian Agricultural Partnership (CAP), and the Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission.

“The field conditions, crop conditions, and climate conditions are very similar (in Saskatchewan), so at this point, we are focusing to conduct the trial in Alberta, but obviously, once we have some results, I am pretty sure that they can be used in other provinces, or in other crops within Alberta or within Canada,” said Singh.

Alberta farmers interested in taking part in the research project can contact Singh at 587-899-8405 or by email at chandra.singh@lethbridgecollege.ca.

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