10 questions with an expert: managing the grain investment

08 June 20226 min reading

As global grain markets experience sustained disruptions, protecting the quality of raw ingredient investments is essential. Selko, the feed additive brand of Trouw Nutrition, Nutreco's livestock feed business, recently presented a webinar, “Optimize your grain investment: How to safeguard the economics and quality of grains.” Following are 10 questions addressed by moderator Pieter Steyn, Selko’s global programme manager raw material quality during the webinar.

Pieter Steyn
Selko-Trouw Nutrition

How are macroeconomic factors affecting grain market prices and quality?

Both grain prices and quality levels are under pressure. As Russia and Ukraine generate about 30% of the world’s traded wheat crop, it is unclear how much the geo-political conflict will affect production and grain prices. Other aspects of processing grains for animal feed, such as grain drying, also may be affected by rising energy prices. 

How is volatility influencing grain crops around the globe?

Australia and India have expanded wheat crops and the U.S. plans for a larger corn crop. However, an ongoing drought in Brazil and Argentina is expected to lower yields. Global corn production is anticipated to be predominantly from the U.S. and Brazil. Ukraine’s harvest is expected to be down by at least 50%. Wheat producing regions outside of Ukraine and Russia are expanding production. During this period of uncertainty, the feed production sector should anticipate the potential for lower quality grain supplies and consider interventions to help safeguard grain quality.

Considering grain safety, how prevalent are moulds?

About 80% of agricultural commodities are infected with mycotoxins and the adverse effects of mycotoxins can make some grain unusable in feed. Looking just at the reductions in stored grain, losses during storage as well as mycotoxin contamination can be more than 30%.

Moulds and the mycotoxins they generate are an ongoing concern and can threaten grains in the field, during transport or in storage. Damaged kernels or broken grains can host moulds while oxygen levels, temperature, relative humidity, pH, and water activity can all increase mould growth rate. 

What are some interesting approaches to mitigate  mycotoxins?

Managing water activity is an area of increasing focus for defending against moulds in grains. For several years, the pet food industry has evaluated how even low water activity levels can affect mould growth.  From a nutritional perspective, managing moulds is critical to protecting the integrity of the animal’s diet. Mould growth results in a noticeable difference in the nutritional quality of corn including a drop in metabolic energy, crude protein and fat content. (Figure 1) 

Figure 1 – Mould growth robs stored grains of nutritional quality, reducing  nutrition available to livestock.

Where should mould prevention areas focus?

Mould prevention efforts should start in the field and continue through transport, storage and production. In the field, weather, drought, harvest rains, pests and mould growth can harm quality. Scoring systems created by the USDA are a helpful tool for evaluating quality factors including grade, moisture, nutritional profile, physical quality and mycotoxin presence. Scoring systems are available for corn and other grains and oilseeds. In storage, temperature shifts can allow condensation build-up and conditions for moisture to pool on stored grain. Grains and oilseeds can be contaminated with mycotoxins during transport or at the feed mill where moulds are typically present in screw conveyors, ingredient bins, elevator legs, pellet mill coolers, feed bins and trucks. 

What economic consequences do mould pose?

The average nutritional value of different grains lost to mould has been estimated to be up to 7% for wheat and barley and 6% for corn. Given current grain pricing, this decline equates to more than $200,000 in damage for every 10,000 tons. (Figure 2)

Figure 2 – Mould-based damage to grain quality can quickly become an economic challenge for producers.

How can the production chain manage this risk?

A third-party critical control point assessment can identify possible risks and suggest practices to help mitigate threats. Practices can include using natural or artificial drying, monitoring stored grain and installing aeration and scoring systems, using portable moisture analysis to run spot checks, having a conveyer system that minimizes grain damage and cleaning conveyor belts to remove broken kernels/debris.

What interventions can support the supply chain’s safety efforts?

Selko developed an integrated grain quality approach that starts with a raw material quality program to maintain nutritional value. Conducting a GAP analysis of a feed mill can establish a microbial and moisture blueprint and provide an outside look at critical control points. Testing and properly applied additives can help preserve the quality of stored grain. Sampling across the supply chain allows grain to be checked for components including mould, mycotoxins, water activity (aW), moisture, pH, and nutrient composition. 

How long is volatility expected to persist?

With so many uncertainties, we cannot predict when conditions will stabilise. This makes efforts to safeguard the grain investment even more essential. Current market conditions may make it harder to get high quality grain, potentially for the next few years. Integrating interventions from field through processing can mitigate threats to quality. It is pretty clear when we look at grains what the risks are - it’s not just prices, it’s the microbial challenges as well which need an integrated mitigation plan.

What studies are evaluating additive-based interventions? 

A research study evaluated the efficacy of a mould inhibitor including organic acids and buffered organic acids to extend the shelf life of grains and feed ingredients. Corn stored in high humidity conditions was maintained three ways: left with 12.29% moisture – as it arrived for storage – dried to 11.14% moisture and treated with a mould-prevention additive – Fylax Forte-HC – and dried to 11.87%. Water activity increased by 6.3% between the dried and the dried and treated corn, while the as-is corn had the highest water activity. When checked for mould growth, the undried corn showed the highest levels of mould followed by the dried corn. A drop in mould count between the dried corn and the dried and treated corn, demonstrated that a mould inhibitor can allow stored grains to retain more internal moisture and still have lower mould growth.

Figure 3 – Grain treated with an intervention intended to extend shelf life can see a better return on investment even when stored for up to a year.

There also can be a better return on investment if corn needs to be stored for up to a year. The return varies based on grain’s storage time and water content, but potential for improved returns remains even when treated corn has a water level nearing 23%. (Figure 3).

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