The Archer Daniels Midland (ADM) Institute for the Prevention of Postharvest Loss is funding research collaboration between the University of Illinois and three universities in Brazil to measure and document postharvest losses of soybeans and corn. Significant amounts of food are lost every year to postharvest waste, and the problem takes on global implications when studies show that this lost food could meet the minimum annual food requirements of millions of people.
Grace Danao, an assistant professor in the Department of Agricultural and Biological Engineering (ABE) at the U of I, is administering the grant from ADM. Richard Gates and Kent Rausch, professors in ABE, and Marvin Paulsen, professor emeritus in ABE, are also investigators with the project. The Brazilian partners include the Universidade Federal de Viçosa (UFV), the Universidade Federal de Goias (UFG), and the Universidade Federal de Mato Grosso-Sinop (UFMT-Sinop). This group is committing resources towards the activities in the form of faculty time, graduate and undergraduate support, and materials and supplies.
The project has three components. The first is an effort to determine the extent and cost of harvest losses for farmers in the major soybean- and corn-growing states. The second component is studying transportation and storage losses in order to develop guidelines for proper handling, transportation, and storage of soybeans and corn. The third component to the study is testing and analyzing costs of implementing effective structures for on-farm storage, in particular silo bags.
Marvin Paulsen is leading the harvest loss measurement team, with collaboration from Francisco Pinto (UFV), Darly G. de Sena, Jr. (UFG), and Rodrigo S. Zandonadi (UFMT-Sinop). The team visited eight farms in Brazil in February to measure losses of soybeans during harvest season, and 11 farms in June to measure losses of corn during harvest season.
“It’s important to measure loss at each step during harvest in order to understand total loss contributions,” said Paulsen. “We measured pre-harvest, combine header, and threshing and separating losses using a standard method developed by EMBRAPA.” [EMBRAPA is a state-owned company affiliated with the Brazilian Ministry of Agriculture.] The team also estimated yield in both crops. In soybeans, losses as a percent of yield went from a low of 1.4 percent to a high of 5.7 percent, or 0.88 to 4.45 sacks per hectare. In corn, losses as a percent of yield went from a low of 0.33 percent to a high of 3.64 percent, or 0.6 to 5.3 sacks per hectare.
“U.S. guidelines say if total crop losses are less than 3 percent, you’re doing pretty well, but over that usually means you need to take time to stop and make adjustments to reduce them,” said Paulsen. In both corn and soybeans, Paulsen said those adjustments could be as simple as slowing the speed of the combine and lowering the header. In both harvests, the combines with the highest losses were also running with the header high and at an advanced speed.
Paulsen said a large combine can easily harvest 4.5 hectares of soybeans an hour. “If the operators slowed down and saved two sacks per hectare, reducing those losses would theoretically save nine sacks an hour. At $28.60 per sack, that would be about $257 an hour. That’s a tremendous savings to the enterprise.”
“There has been much speculation about the amount of grain lost during harvesting in Brazil,” said Francisco Pinto, a member of the research team from Universidade Federal de Viçosa. “The numbers found in this first year of measurements shows some farmers are doing a very good job adjusting their combines. Others still have room to improve their harvesting process. However,” he continued, “the key point is to understand that without the research to determine these measurements, it would be impossible to make effective and efficient decisions.”