The need to track and trace commodities used to make the world's food and fiber is being driven by consumers. New grain bin technologies can allow farmers to collect data that can be used to increase a commodity's production and handling transparency to meet those demands while simultaneously protecting the quality and marketability of their grain.
One such technology was highlighted at this year's USA Rice Outlook Conference in Little Rock, Ark. "More consumers are demanding to know the origin of the food they feed their families," says Ian Wade, director of sales, AGI Suretrack, who detailed highlights of BinManager, an automated control system that manages grain inside the bin. "Consumers are basing, in part, their buying decisions on a product's sustainability and how that product's ingredients are handled and protected."
Wade works with farmers, seed processors, seed companies dealing with genetics, and co-ops to protect grain quality as it progresses through the supply chain. "I was told long ago that a grain bin is like a bank, but it's not a bank if you can't sell your grain," Wade says. "Producers always talk about yield, but we're finding buyers will pay premiums if a farmer can grow the genetics and/or quality characteristics buyers want. But that quality must be maintained after harvest."
Creating the technology
While working for an independently-owned Midwestern seed company exporting tofu soybeans, Todd Spheres, founder of IntelliFarms, was responsible for maintaining quality seed the company could export, as well as insuring the ongoing relationships with farmers who grew the soybeans for the seed company that was more than willing to pay a premium.
"Todd couldn't replace the growers fast enough who were leaving because soybeans were losing that premium quality inside their grain bins. They were spending their time growing a premium product but would end up having to sell it for a commercial price," Wade says. "He eventually worked with an engineer to develop a system that could run autonomously based on preset temperature and moisture targets."
Iterations of the technology progressed and today BinManager provides moisture and temperature readings at multiple points within the bin via sensors mounted within cables hanging down through the grain.
"The whole premise is wrapped around knowing the temperature and moisture levels inside the bin. The system takes into consideration the ambient temperature, and then controls the heaters and fans until that target moisture level and temperature are reached," Wade says. "Carbon dioxide levels are important, especially for any grain that will be labeled food grade, so we added a CO2 monitoring component into the system."
Safety and monitoring
Grain bin entrapments have taken too many lives and their occurrence has been on the rise the last several years. "This system essentially takes away the need to ever climb into a grain bin because it provides you with all the information needed to prevent spoilage or molded grain that can create large chunks that get pulled down to the sump and bridge over the hole," Wade says. "A clogged sump has been the ticket to danger for so many famers."
The web-based system will generate multiple updates each day to a smart phone. "More times than not, if a heater doesn't come on at 2 a.m., a farmer isn't going to know it," Wade says. "If the system doesn't check in on the hour as it's supposed to do, it will send an alert signaling a problem and in what bin the problem is occurring."
A farmer's grain is an economic asset. Knowing how many bushels each bin holds is important to track those assets. "At some point in the future, I believe insurance adjusters and bank loan officers will want to know all of a farmer's assets when applying for a loan or filing a claim," Wade says. "It's important to be able to provide that information, as well as that commodity's tracking and tracing history that seems to be having more impact on the economics of selling grain and the food products made from it."