It’s easy to see why grain analyzers and testers are garnering more attention in ag circles, from the farm all the way up through elevators and even at large-scale processors.
With tighter margins and a greater focus on finding efficiencies, but also with more focus on traceability, more interest in new traits, and more markets for end uses that have very specific quality parameters, it all adds up to more potential payback for knowing exactly what you’ve got.
In 2014, for instance, moisture became the bane of many corn growers, particularly at harvest, with plenty of accounts of corn arriving at local elevators and getting tested at 30 per cent or more before heading into the dryer.
Grain analyzers won’t tell farmers anything they didn’t already know about moisture levels above 30 per cent. But in the chase for margins, a little can go a long way, says John Lounsberry of Champion Industrial Equipment in Cornwall, Ont. Lounsberry is an ag specialist, and sees the need for more precise grain analysis, primarily from a moisture perspective, although the future for grain analysis is anything but limited.
“If you’re a grain buyer in the winter months — spring and fall, too — to get your tester to work, you do it usually by warming it up in a microwave, on a hot plate or just letting it sit out,” says Lounsberry. “But all the time, moisture is leaving the product, and that moisture is the customer’s money — it’s still in your sample.”
For the sake of argument, continues Lounsberry, say the moisture loss amounts to just 0.5 per cent, which he agrees doesn’t sound like a lot. However, when that percentage is translated throughout an entire truckload sitting at the elevator, it’s money out of someone’s pocket. And if the moisture level is too high — as was often the case with harvested corn in late 2014 — some elevators or processors would send truckloads back to the farm, at the farmer’s expense.
One of the units that Lounsberry sells is the Dickey-john GAC 2500 grain analyzer, a self-contained system that provides precise moisture and density results at operating temperatures of -20 to 45 C. It has a touch screen and a USB port for portable data storage and it keeps a running Excel spreadsheet, enabling a buyer to enter the ticket number on the sample. The farmer can also enter the part of a field where the load or the sample originated, and it can be interfaced with a computer. Although corn was the hot topic for late 2014, Lounsberry assures growers and elevator operators alike that the GAC unit can perform the same precision analysis on all grains and oilseeds, including wheat/cereals and soybeans.
One other advantage is that it can analyze or measure ice as water — up to 19 per cent moisture.
It’s also certified by the National Type Evaluation Program (NTEP), administered by the National Conference on Weights and Measures.
More use, more value
The 2014 growing season marked the first year for sales in Canada for the GAC 2500, and sales were shared almost equally among growers and elevators. Lounsberry suggests that since commodity prices are expected to remain low for the foreseeable future, it’s possible that more farmers might be in the market for such analyzers as a means of reducing operating costs and maximizing revenues.
The University of Guelph was the first customer to purchase a GAC 2500 in Ontario. Students are doing their plot work and wanted to keep their own data files on their results.
Some growers may view grain analysis that is specific and accurate as the primary value of such technology. And on a face value, that’s very true. But the term “value” is getting more exposure, both as commodity prices are pulling back from the dizzying heights of early to late 2013, and as processors and manufacturers continue to find new uses, thereby requiring stricter quality specifications. It isn’t just money lost in dried corn or a rejected load, it’s the value of that time on the road driving that truck back home. Farmers are getting better at placing a value on their time, but it’s still a part of their on-farm management regimen that is seldom recognized.
“That’s usually what I point out — the costs — and they realize that overdrying can cost them a lot,” says Lounsberry. “For one thing, the elevator will buy that moisture, and you will use a lot of propane, and that’s a real cost. And the other way is underdrying where the elevator may charge you or possibly send you back.”
As for other functions, the GAC 2500 is capable of performing grading on grains, specifically bushel weight densities.
“We work with Canadian Grain Commission standards, and this year (2014) has been a particularly critical year for grain grading, and I was told that it’s the difference between making money and not,” states Lounsberry. “Your value drops as you go down the chart. The growers say they can take a hit going from Grade 2 to Grade 3, and that’s not so bad. But not from Grade 3 to Grade 4.”
The technology also has its applications with larger farming operations that have followed the trend of the past five years that has seen an increase in the construction of on-farm storage. At the time, the word from engineers and extension personnel was that farmers must be extra cautious about monitoring and managing their stored grains, and that part of what elevators charge for storage includes all of the risk and liability that goes with that service. When the grain is stored on a farm, that liability shifts back to the farmer, meaning farmes need to ensure their quality is maintained. And a grain analyzer can go a long way to providing more information about the crop that’s in storage.
Upgrades or up-scale
Unlike a lot of other pieces of “precision ag” systems and equipment that are purchased for on-farm usage, grain analyzers, at least the GAC 2500, aren’t prone to upgrades or redesigns. These units won’t be upgraded in a year or two or even three years, but will be in the form of software enhancements, and those are provided as part of the purchase.
“There are what I refer to as clear leaps in technology,” says Lounsberry. “And there’s a fair gap between the last analyzer, which was on the market for more than 10 years. But this is a clear leap forward and I think the manufacturer is going to stay with this approach to the technology, and they may improve some of its operation, but basically it’s going to be something in the same nature of the current technology.”
It’s the type of precision that the GAC unit provides — plus its ease of operations — that makes it as popular as it’s become with farmers, elevators and large-scale processors. If more precision and detail are required, Lounsberry points to the InstaLab 700 NIR — also manufactured by Dickey-john — for measuring higher-value traits and properties. This particular unit is built for crushers or processors with the goal of selling to higher-value buyers and food manufacturers — businesses that are looking for more quality-related information on protein, fat or oil constituents.
This article first appeared in the February 2015 Soybean Guide.