Documenting grain loss in the Brazilian harvesting supply chain
Documenting grain losses at different stages of the supply chain provides an important baseline for measuring improvements of grain quality. Researchers in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE) are collaborating with three universities in Brazil to measure and document postharvest losses of soybeans and corn.
Grace Danao, assistant professor in ABE, Richard Gates, professor in ABE, and Marvin Paulsen, professor emeritus in ABE, are investigators for the project. The Brazilian partners include Rodrigo Zandonadi and Solenir Ruffato from the Federal University of Mato Grosso, Daniel Marçal de Queiroz and Francisco Pinto from the Federal University of Viçosa, and Darly Sena from the Federal University of Goiás.
Their efforts include determining the extent and cost of harvest losses for farmers in the major soybean- and corn-growing states, studying the logistics of handling and transporting the grain, measuring transportation conditions as grains move from farm to storage, assessing fan efficiencies in large concrete graneleiros, and testing and developing best management practices using hermetic storage bags for grain storage.
The team’s most recent effort has been studying handling and transportation losses. Chris Wilhelmi, an ABE graduate student, has focused on developing a system to monitor GPS coordinates, time, temperature, relative humidity, and carbon dioxide buildup in grain in trucks during transportation. With the help of Jonnas De Marchi, an undergraduate student in agricultural engineering at Federal University of Mato Grosso, Wilhelmi installed several monitoring probes in 23 trucks during the soybean harvest in Sinop, Mato Grosso.
“We monitored 44 trips from farm to storage made by these trucks,” said Danao. “We also collected soybean samples at the time of loading at the farm and at the time of unloading at the storage facility. All soybean samples were analyzed according to a Brazilian grain classification system. We are currently analyzing our measurements to see if certain handling practices and transportation conditions are related to—or, more importantly, causing—quality changes in the beans as they move from one point of the supply chain to the next.”
Preliminary analyses of the data showed soybean harvest moisture between 11 and 26 percent. For the 10 farms the team visited, distances to the storage facility ranged from 5 to 125 km, with an average of 39 km (24 miles). Most of the roads traveled were unpaved. The transportation duration from loading to unloading ranged from 30 minutes to 27 hours. Duration was not related to distance, as it included the time trucks waited at the farm to finish loading, or the total time spent by fully loaded trucks sitting idle at the farm or at the storage facility waiting to unload the beans.
“We’re hoping to see some patterns that help us provide practical guidelines for handling and transportation that improve efficiencies and are conducive to the Brazilian system,” said Danao. “For example, it would be good if we could advise how much time the farmer has to get high-moisture soybeans to a storage facility for cleaning and drying that ensures minimum quality losses. We can also identify areas between the farm and storage facility where farmers can make an investment or change in practice to handle the grain more efficiently.”
Danao said the team hopes to expand the work in transportation and to address storage systems in the next couple of years. The team develops measurement protocols and technologies that are applicable to other regions of the world where agronomic practices, climate, and challenges are similar. “As the global demand for food increases,” she concluded, “it’s imperative that we find efficient and safe ways to harvest, transport, and store our grains.”
The research is funded by the Archer Daniels Midland Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss, and Danao is administering the grant.