New grain sampling applications on the horizon

by Emily Wilson
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While training has always been key to grain sampling, the hot topics currently surrounding this issue include genetic-ally modified grains and conflicting grain grading standards from country to country.

"Grain sampling is so difficult because you’re expecting 2 pounds of grain or less to represent up to 50,000 bushels of grain," explained Dr. Charles Hurburgh, associate professor of agricultural engineering at Iowa State University, Ames, Iowa, U.S.

"Internationally, sampling methods and equipment are quite similar in Asia and Europe," Hurburgh said. "In less developed areas, however, where ship unloading isn’t mechanical, probably much greater reliance is put on the grading certificate."

Grain grading systems, which are set by each country’s government, are sim-ilar internationally but vary in the details, Hurburgh said.

"For instance, almost every grading system accounts for broken kernels, but the sizes of the allowed particles can vary greatly," Hurburgh said. "Uniformity in measurement is an important element in free trade. The GMO issue definitely woke everybody up about this, and the need for global uniformity was suddenly more clear."

Codex Alimentarious, a part of the United Nations and World Health Organization, is working towards harm-onizing grading systems. The Codex Committee on Methods of Analysis and Sampling meets every two years to ad-dress this issue. While some progress has been made, Hurburgh said, there is no resolution in sight.

"This is a big deal and it’s going to get nothing but bigger," he added.

The new varieties of genetically modi-fied products waiting to enter the mar-ketplace within the next few years also presents a dilemma for sampling analysis.

"Each GMO trait will have to be specifically monitored," Hurburgh said. "We will need to measure the specific traits that consumers will want, such as grains with added amino acids or soy-beans that promote insulin. Those traits, however, are at such low levels of quantity that current sampling analysis cannot detect it."

There could be 50 to more than 100 new grains with micronutrient modifi-cations, so-called "nutraceutical" grains, ready to be released in the next two to five years.

"The GMO controversy is a real diver-sion from the benefits that have been created over the last 10 years," he said.

Despite the benefits, Hurburgh and many others doubt any new modified variety of grain will receive govern-ment approval without the appropriate inspection tools in place. This belief has led to a new motto among U.S. grain handlers: "You can’t expect what you can’t inspect."

"I don’t think that concept was widely understood when companies began developing these modified varieties," Hurburgh said. "The GMO and Starlink issue showed that it wouldn’t work. Up to now, these issues have been set aside."

Recently, Hurburgh has noticed a much greater awareness of this issue, from the country elevator to the nutraceutical companies that develop the products.

The bottom line: analytical systems are going to have to get tighter. And there is no solution in sight.

Still, Hurburgh isn’t worried.

"The grain market is highly competitive, and once there’s awareness, a solution won’t be too far behind. I’m not worried that we’re going to get caught with the inability to test and measure these new products. Our market has the ability to change when it needs to. Without question, a solution will be found."

Dr. Carl Reed, a research associate at the Grain Storage Research Center at Kansas State University, Manhattan, Kansas, U.S., is also interested in the effects of introducing new wheat classes.

"People who’ve never had to deal with two classes of wheat in one elevator may soon have to IP (identity preserve) by class in wheat and GMOs and other characteristics in fall crops," Reed said.

Country elevators are considering remote sampling of grain 200 to 300 feet before trucks reach the scales in order to prevent bottlenecks and to have advanced warning of the characteristics of the incoming products, Reed said.

Currently, Reed is working with K-State and the U.S. Department of Agri-culture’s Grain Marketing Research Lab in Manhattan to increase the efficacy of grain sampling as a strategy for insect control in stored grain.

Using a gas-powered, deep-probing device for sampling stored grain in tandem with prediction software developed by the USDA lab, the software will predict the amount of insects that could appear within the next month, two months or even further into the future. This information will help elevator operators to determine which bins to fumigate and which bins can be turned or shipped now to prevent having to fumigate, Reed said.

"This is a scientific alternative to the ‘just-in-case’ insect control approach that people often use for wheat," he said. "The project began three years ago, and will continue for another two years. We are now in the phase of trying to develop something commercial for elevator operations staff."