How to Break a Commodity Price Cycle

August 27, 2013

Producing property-specific crops is an option; new technologies make it possible.

As I mentioned before, new interconnected technology can help farmers to break a commodity price cycle. By breaking the commodity price cycle I mean farmers can get premiums for produced locally required crops with requested properties. Requested properties could be protein in wheat and malting barley, vitamins in rice, sugar content in sugar beets, oil in sunflower seeds, starch in corn (BP is working on it), etc.

Using Precision Ag technologies we can get all necessary data like technology of crop growing, time, location, soil properties, rates, etc. to figure out how to achieve the desired results.

Let’s consider protein. Protein concentration is an important parameter of grain qualifying for price premiums. In 1996, I published a paper where I analyzed the variation of protein in malting barley depending on soil compaction and fertilizer application methods. It was a laboratory experiment and complicated laboratory equipment was used for grain analysis.

Since then a lot of research was conducted in this area. New remote sensing applications for creation of protein maps are emerging. New portable and in-line for harvesters devices for grain analysis are becoming available.

For instance, a ZX-50 is a portable whole grain analyzer specially designed for quick, accurate analysis of protein, moisture, and oil in small quantity. It provides an accurate measurement of multiple constituents within 45 seconds, and is simple to operate. Just pour the grain in the sample holder, insert the holder in the analyzer and analyze.

Dan Long of the USDA-ARS, Lars Thylen and Mikael Gilbertsson of the Swedish Institute of Agricultural and Environmental Engineering, and James Taylor and Brett Whelan of the Australian Centre for Precision Agriculture conducted a lot of research in this area. You can find their papers on-line.

As Dan Long stated: ” The results are sufficiently promising to suggest that on-combine spectroscopic sensing of grain protein concentration for mapping purposes is technically feasible”. But I think we can go further and use these devices for grain separation during harvest.

I suggest three strategies how to get a grain with higher protein content.

First, it is an open loop system or program. You can follow a strict regimen: Use existing research and/or recommendations (sometimes they may have over twenty parameters) and adjust your technology and prescriptions to achieve the desired yield and crop properties. The use of remote sensing for nitrogen applications may help to manage a protein content.

Second is a selective harvesting. One can generate field protein map using remote sensing. After that, this map can be used to develop a route for a selective harvesting. What to harvest first will depend on the composition of high of low protein content in the field.

The third is a separation of the grain on-the-go. The basis for grain separation can be the above-mentioned field protein map, or an on-combine spectroscopic sensor of grain protein concentration, or their combination.

For the grain separation on-the-go, the implementation of variable size bin compartments concept would be useful. You can arrange a movable wall inside of a harvester grain bin and/or inside of grain cart and adjust then accordingly the harvested volumes.

I can provide more details on how to do it if I will receive requests from you.

Major points here are:

  • We need more data to develop better technologies and prescriptions to achieve the desired combination of yield and crop properties.
  • We need a quicker introduction into the production of technical solutions to separate crop on properties on-the-go during harvest.
  • We need continue to share data to figure out how to do it.

I will try to find successful examples (services, manufacturers, and farmers) of getting premiums for produced locally required crops with requested properties.

I’m waiting for your comments.

Posted by Andrey Skotnikov at 3:25am

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