Not long ago, a lot of prairie farmers would balk at the notion of running their commercial grain through a gravity table, colour sorter or cleaner before delivering it to an elevator.
However, with fusarium graminearum and its toxic vomitoxin sidekick deoxynivalenol (DON) stealing potentially hundreds of millions of dollars a year from Canadian farm revenues, the thought of paying toll processors to clean up commercial grain deliveries is gaining momentum.
“In the last few weeks, I’ve had more interest, more inquiries from people that are interested in (cleaning grain), than I could possibly handle in an entire year,” said Jason Basset, a grain farmer from Bruno, Sask., who also runs a grain cleaning company called Peterson Grain Processing.
“So, yes, the demand is definitely there.”
Fusarium infected grain was a common problem across Western Canada last year.
For growers, this added another layer of complexity to grain marketing efforts.
Early in the crop year, a lot of fusarium infected cereal grain deliveries were being graded and purchased based only on visual factors.
For example, grain deliveries that contained low levels of tombstone or fusarium damaged kernels (FDK) were being bought and sold on the assumption that vomitoxin levels were also low.
At the same time, samples that had high levels of FDK were being cleaned up and sold at a higher grade, again based on visual grading parameters.
However, as the marketing season progressed, more grain buyers began purchasing grain based not only on FDK and other visual determinants, but also on vomitoxin levels.
Mitch Flaman, operations manager with Flaman Grain Cleaning and Handling, said a lot of growers mistakenly assume that a sample with little or no FDK should easily meet industry standards or contract specs for vomitoxin.
However, removing FDK does not guarantee that vomitoxin levels are also being lowered.
Flaman said it’s critically important to know what you have in your bin and what you’re trying to remove from a sample.
“Early in the season, a lot of guys were getting away with selling their grain based on visual parameters only,” said Flaman, who sells a variety of grain cleaners, including colour sorters, gravity tables and highly specialized machines that sort grain using near infrared transmittance.
“In other words, if you could clean up your grain visually, there were some elevators that were buying based on visual grades only,” he said. “But what we started to find out later was that some stuff that looked very good visually still had very high levels of vomitoxin. So toward the end of the year, it seemed like almost every elevator started to price grain based on vomitoxin.”
The task of buying and selling grain can become a bit murky when FDK and vomitoxin are involved.
In part, that’s because FDK is recognized in Canada as a visual grading determinant, while vomitoxin is not.
However, vomitoxin is often mentioned in delivery contracts as a quality or contract spec, meaning high levels can significantly affect the value of grain being sold, regardless of how good the delivery looks.
In some cases, farmers who cleaned up their samples to remove FDK were surprised to learn that they were facing substantial price discounts because vomitoxin levels were still above spec, Flaman said.
“Understanding the difference between visual FDK and internal kernel toxicity (DON) has kept the industry busy with this year’s epidemic.”
Basset is currently waiting to take delivery of a BoMill TriQ, a Swedish built grain cleaner that uses near infrared transmittance to remove vomitoxin.
Unlike colour sorters that use near infrared reflectance to assess the external surface of a seed, the TriQ uses light to penetrate the seed coat.
This allows the machine to assess a seed’s internal chemical composition.
The TriQ has the ability to analyze each seed individually and sort seeds based on vomitoxin levels.
Basset plans to use his machine to remove vomitoxin from malting barley.
Vomitoxin specs for malting barley are typically.5 to one p.p.m.
In one barley sample that Basset had analyzed, the TriQ removed 18 percent of the most heavily infected kernels and reduced total vomitoxin levels from two p.p.m. or higher to .5 p.p.m. or lower.
In that scenario, a 10,000 bushel bin of barley that would otherwise be rejected by maltsters and sold as feed could potentially be cleaned and sold as 8,200 bu. of malt.
The economic benefits derived from cleaning barley with the TriQ will vary from case to case, depending on vomitoxin variations within the sample, price spreads between feed and malt and the cost of toll processing.
Basset said the numbers he has crunched suggest that there is significant value to be added through TriQ processing.
Basset is the second Saskatchewan entrepreneur in the past few months to acquire a BoMill TriQ.
Another is being set up near Kenaston, Sask.
“We are very happy about entering the malting barley business chain, where there are very strict limits of vomitoxin,” said BoMill marketing director Per Soderstrom.
“This order (by Peterson Grain Processors) clearly shows that our sorting solution based upon single kernel sorting is becoming a part of a strategic decision in our customer’s way of developing their businesses.”
The TriQ machine can sort durum, soft wheat, malting barley, spelt and oats based on vomitoxin levels, protein content, vitreousness, falling number and other seed quality characteristics.
It can sort at a speed of approximately 25,000 kernels per second, or roughly 100 bu. per hour.
Basset said he is hoping to have the new machine installed, calibrated and fully operational by April.
“Ideally, it would be running in a month from now, but that might be a little tight.”
Flaman Grain Cleaning is acting as BoMill’s Canadian distributor.