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Farmers could benefit from new harvesting technology that will sense grain quality in real time – using smart sensors often found in medical devices. Real-time grain measurement can sort crops more quickly

Farmers could benefit from new harvesting technology that will sense grain quality in real time – using smart sensors often found in medical devices.

The technology is being developed by a team of agricultural industry partners alongside academic expertise from Reading University. It will give farmers instant feedback on the quality of grains such as wheat, barley and oilseed rape.

If successful, it will enable grain protein and oil contents to be measured as they are harvested by the combine harvester. Called Constituent Sensing of Small Grains, it is being funded by the European Institute of Innovation & Technology (EIT) Food.

Robust measurements

The project is being led by professor of crop science John Hammond. As well as providing important information about the marketing of the grains, the data would enable farmers to create maps of their fields to understand variation in grain quality, he said.

Prof Hammond explained: “Based on the wavelengths detected and calibration models, it is possible to quickly and robustly measure many aspects of the grain’s constituents, such as protein or oil content.”

The project is using Near Infrared Spectroscopy to measure the quality of the grain samples being harvested. Analysers work by emitting a spectrum of near infrared wavelengths at the grain sample and then measures the wavelengths reflected or transmitted through the grain.

Grain stores

“This technology has been used for decades on farms and grain stores to check the quality of harvested products, but only on small sub-samples,” said Prof Hammond.

“We are working with John Deere, who is already known to offer a robust NIRS sensor for forage harvesters, manure tankers and as a stationary unit, to test and validate this technology.”

The smart sensors being developed in the project will continuously measure grain as it flows through the combine harvester providing data on the grain as it is harvested. The team is working on connecting this data with GPS location during harvest.

Better marketing

This will allow field scale maps to be developed showing how the grain quality varies across the field. Prof Hammond said data would provide a more accurate measures of grain quality for marketing purposes.

Potentially allowing different grain qualities to be separated and sold into different markets in the future. The field scale map can be used to optimise production, allowing resources to be focused on unproductive areas of fields and/or reduce inputs to more productive areas. 

John Deere technology expert Thomas Engel said the project could help increase productivity, reduce costs and help reduce the environmental impact of agriculture. It would be good for farmers and end users.

“Measuring grain constituents like protein during harvesting on the combine is another important puzzle piece of precision farming technology, moving us towards a sustainable production of high quality grain.”