Signs of the Times

Levels of raw grain testing are increasing as measurement science technology increases. According to Charles Hurburgh, professor-in-charge of the Iowa Grain Quality Initiative, 1 a grain quality and research program at Iowa State University, there are a lot of new requirements on the food trait front, such as amino acid profiles and fatty acid profiles.

“For example, with mandatory labeling for trans fat on the 2006 horizon, there’s a growing demand for low linolenic soybeans (for which the oil does not have to be hydrogenated to extend shelf life), and tests will be needed to measure the levels of linolenic acid,” Hurburgh explains.

Though near infrared technology (NIR) for grain testing has been around 20 years, there have been a lot of improvements in the last three to five years. There have been NIR tests for protein levels in corn and soybeans, but they have not been widely applied because the technology was impractical and economic incentives were small. Hurburgh says that with advances in NIR, improvements are making protein and oil tests relatively simple.

“The end desire of all the stakeholders is that we can put grain in a box and get all the information we need in just one test,” Hurburgh says. “We’re not there yet, but the grain industry and the government would like to see it. Without a doubt, we will become more analytical when looking at raw commodities in general. The primary driver will be biotechnology and the ability to manipulate characteristics.”

Hurburgh stresses that it is critical for the marketplace to continue to get new information about grain performance traits and quality, and we get information by developing technologies to measure it. “If we can’t measure something, we cannot do anything about it. A good example is aflotoxin; We didn’t do anything about aflotoxin until we knew how to test for it,” he points out.

Speed and Reliability

There aren’t so many new qualitative tests for grain, but there is new technology in the marketplace to quantify grain with speed and reliability right at the point of sale.

Dirk Maier, an agricultural engineer with Purdue University, says that we are in the middle of using NIR to quantify end use parameters such as extractable starch content in corn with even more reliability than ever before.

“Handlers and distributors are asking for this information with more frequency in order to trace quality from the seed to the end product,” Maier says. “NIR is the key technology to allow for the marketing of grain based on most of the key end use quality attributes.”

Quality Assurance Program

In June, Purdue’s Post Harvest Grain Quality and Stored Product Protection Program2 launched voluntary Grainsafe On-Farm Quality Assurance Program. Grainsafe was developed to aid value-added grain and oilseeds producers, handlers and processors in providing quality assured grain to end users. The program incorporates HACCP methodology and can be integrated into ISO 9000 based quality management systems to meet the documentation, monitoring and improvement requirements that the food industry is demanding.

“Our focus for the Grainsafe program has been to develop the content for a quality management system that can be readily adopted by grain producers,” Maier explains. “It is a template that can be customized by producer groups, quality system certification organizations, and/or end users for pretty much any specialty grain supply chain.”

For the most part, not a lot has changed during the past few years relative to food corn testing, says John McKinney, director of the Identity Preserved Grain Laboratory at the Illinois Crop Improvement Association (ICIA).3

About Linda L. Leake, MS

Linda L. Leake, doing business as Food Safety Ink, is a food safety consultant, auditor, and award-winning freelance journalist based in Wilmington, N.C. Specializing in agriculture, food, food safety, and travel, her articles have appeared in over 80 print and online publications. Along with garnering awards for her articles and photographs, she holds the prestigious Master Writer status with the American Agricultural Editors’ Association. Majoring in Dairy Science, she completed a BS in Agriculture at the University of Wisconsin and an MS in Food Safety at Michigan State University. She is an active member of the International Association for Food Protection, Toxicologists Without Borders, Inc., and the National Dairy Shrine.

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