Planting, harvest equipment best kept separate, advisors say

Steps should be taken to prevent treated seed from contaminating harvested grain

Growers need to pay extra attention to cleaning equipment post-planting to ensure there is no contamination at the elevator or further up the supply chain.

Growers should take extra time at harvest to ensure no treated seed or treatment residue remains in augers, wagons and trucks, according to grain handlers. Otherwise, their grain could be rejected at the elevator or cause problems further up the supply chain.

The opportunity for contamination is a growing concern as more acres are planted with treated products, says Don Kabbes, general manager of Great Lakes Grain. 

Why it matters: Even small amounts of treated seed can cause big loads of harvested grain to be rejected. The later the contamination is noticed, the greater the volume risk. 

However, identifying contamination can be tricky because seeds left over from the planting season frequently lie near the bottom of a load, on ledges, in residue or within other small spaces. 

Grain probes cannot identify the presence of treated seed so the human eye is the only available tool. Unfortunately, that means contamination is generally only spotted during the unloading process.

“The tolerance level is virtually zero at every end user, whether it’s an ethanol plant, wheat mill, exporter, whatever,” says Kabbes. Contaminated grain shipments that do sneak through the cracks can cause increasingly larger grain loads to be rejected if noticed. 

“The worst-case scenario is it gets in a large vessel being exported. At that point whoever is shipping that vessel is on the hook. If you can’t ship that full load of wheat… those few kernels of treated seed will cost a lot of money.”

When the same equipment is used to handle treated seed as well as harvested seed, Kabbes says growers should take a few extra minutes to ensure every trace of treated product is removed from ledges, corners and every other surface. 

It helps to keep transport equipment inside or at least in a dry environment so seeds are dry and more apt to flow out. 

Kabbes believes nearly all cases of contamination are accidental and the use of an IP soybean-style checklist system for vessel cleaning would be useful for other crops. 

Wheat appears to be the most likely crop to be contaminated, specifically by treated soybeans, because of the shorter distance between the former’s harvest season and the latter’s planting season. 

“It’s really once we’re done our planting season, take a few minutes and get those wagons, trucks and other vessels cleaned right out,” he says. 

Even if done thoroughly, cleaning equipment is not an option when it comes to food-grade crops, says Quentin Martin, part-owner and chief executive officer of Waterloo’s Cribit Seeds.

“We simply cannot tolerate any treated seed coming in with the food grain cereals we process on-farm. Our contract attempts to make that clear,” says Martin. 

The company’s grower checklists, which are part of the contract process, specify that augers, trucks and wagons in contact with the crop cannot also be used to handle treated seed. 

As a farmer himself, Martin recognizes tasks such as cleaning are not always done properly, though not necessarily for a lack of trying.

“As a seed grower I can say I’ve been amazed many times over the years when cleaning down seed handling equipment between varieties or crop kinds, how determined grain can be to hang up in equipment, even when I’m using compressed air and vacuum,” he says. 

“As a food grain receiver and processor, I’ve seen the errors that get made. It is simply a risk we must avoid. As part of the food sector, we must avoid the reputational risk. 

“So, if you have equipment that is used to handle treated seed, then that is its only purpose. It is no longer suitable for handling harvested grain. Full stop.”

About the author

Contributor

Matt McIntosh

Matt is a freelance writer based between Essex County and Chatham-Kent. He is interested in all things scientific, as well as rock n' roll, hunting and history. He also works with his parents on their sixth-generation family farm.

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