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AGCanada: BoMill seed sorter adds value to Canadian grain

1 September 2013, 08:28 CET

| News

Imagine being able to upgrade your downgraded wheat. A new technology from Sweden can do just that and it may present opportunities for western Canadian wheat and barley growers to recapture some of the price premiums that they are currently leaving on the table.

The BoMill seed sorting system uses a near-infrared (NIR) sensor to analyse individual wheat, durum or barley kernels and separate them into three different quality fractions.

The BoMill equipment — the first unit in Canada — can sort about three tonnes of seed per hour and is currently being evaluated as part of a five-year research project underway at the University of Saskatchewan’s (U. of S.) new Canadian Feed Research Centre in North Battleford.

Sorting criteria

The BoMill can theoretically sort seed based on any criteria but for now the manufacturer has based the system on protein content. “NIR calibration typically relies on a whole series of different wavelengths which can allow you to analyse many functional and nutritional characteristics,” says Dr. Tom Scott, research chair in feed processing technology at the U. of S. “The manufacturers of the BoMill have restricted the current wavelength based on crude protein.”

Grains with fusarium have a low protein content, so Scott and his team have been able to use the BoMill to identify seeds with the lowest protein and separate the fusarium damaged kernels (FDK) that contain the highest levels of vomitoxin. Vomitoxin (also known as deoxynivalenol, or DON) can cause serious health and production issues in animals.

The BoMill system could be used to detect other problems such as ergot, midge damage or sprouting.

It only takes two per cent sprouted kernels within a sample to downgrade a No. 1 milling wheat to feed quality, and significantly reduce its value. If there is a $100 a tonne price differential between the two grades, and the BoMill was able to sort out and salvage 90 per cent of the grain as top quality milling wheat and remove the 10 per cent that includes the sprouted material for feed, a farmer could recoup $90 a tonne, less the costs of processing the grain with the BoMill system, estimated at $10 per tonne.

BoMill capabilities

The system also provides marketing advantages that may be important in Western Canada’s new marketing environment for wheat and barley. “In terms of the end users of Canadian grains, if the bakers or pasta makers or maltsters could be guaranteed that they would never have a batch of grain that didn’t meet their exact needs, that is huge from a marketing perspective,” says Scott.

Each BoMill machine is capable of sorting about 25,000 tons of grain a year. The manufacturer suggests that 10 machines give an ideal economy of scale. But at $400,000 a machine, the first uptake is likely to be by the seed cleaning industry to complement existing technologies.

“I don’t believe we will ever see a time when all of the grain has to go through these types of sorters,” says Dr. Rex Newkirk, director of research and business development for the Canadian International Grain Institute (Cigi), which is collaborating on this research project. Instead, he expects people to continue to use standard cleaning systems, “and then put the resulting screenings through the BoMill to recover the high value wheat.”

An important part of the collaboration between Cigi and the U. of S. is the marrying of the grain and feed industries.

“My interest is that when we apply a process to feed like grinding or pelleting, we apply that to all of the seeds, and my concern is that we probably are having a bigger influence on the low quality seeds and may be damaging the high quality seeds,” says Scott. “This system will give us a chance to look at the individual types of grains and see if they actually do have different requirements to optimize feed value.”

get involved

Farmers are encouraged to provide downgraded samples of wheat, durum or barley to the U. of S. for evaluation and maybe get some hands on experience with the BoMill system.

If you have downgraded grain samples that you would like to provide for evaluation email Rex Newkirk at or Tom Scott at The U of S will pay for the grain and also cover any shipping costs.

The BoMill evaluation project is being funded by many partners including the Government of Canada, Cigi, the U. of S., the Alberta Crop Industry Development Fund and the Saskatchewan Agricultural Development Fund. †

Angela Lovell is a freelance writer, editor and communications specialist living and working in Manitoba. Find her online at