Looking Ahead: The Future of Grain Processing

The nutritional benefit of grain can only partially be realized without proper processing – this is true for grain grown for human consumption or animal consumption. The starchy components of that kernel are tightly enclosed in the shell until grinding, heat, pressure or all three are applied.

Corn is rolled and flaked. Wheat is ground and milled. Barley is heated and fermented. Humankind has been processing grain since our prehistoric ancestors left their hunting and gathering in favor of agriculture. The steps we take in processing grain –grinding, milling, sifting, feeding, and batching, may have changed little over the centuries but the technology and equipment we use to accomplish those tasks have changed exponentially. Let’s take a look at the history of grain processing, before we delve into what the future of the industry holds.

A History of Grain Processing

For most of history, stone milling was the primary technology to turn grain into flour. Farmers would sell their grain to the local miller who would process the grain and sell it to bakers. These mills were powered by water or wind to grind grain between two large stones. In the late 1700’s an inventor, Oliver Evans made the first automated flour mill in the US. Meanwhile, in Europe new ways of milling were explored to process the hard wheat varieties – eventually the steam roller mill was invented.

Due to the shift of agricultural production from the Northeast to the Midwest, the United States began to using the steam technology, and the invention of the purifier machine reduced the man power necessary for processing. With the combination of the European roller mill, Oliver Evan’s automated mill, and the invention of the purifier, the nearly modern equivalence of the steel roller mill was born.

Now, this is primarily a history of the processing of wheat, but a similar story could be told for corn. Corn is a grain that’s primary use has changed widely over the centuries. Beginning with its use as flour for human consumption, to its use as animal feed and then later its use as an energy source – corn has a wide and varied history. We owe much of the versatility of corn to biotechnology, which has changed the future of grain and the future of grain processing.

The Impact of Biotechnology

When thinking about the future of grain processing we would be at fault if we did not acknowledge how biotechnology in corn has changed processing. GMO’s (genetically modified organisms) have created ways to add value to grain through production, handing, and trait identification as well as processing. We have seen this play out as corn become more and more versatile—its use going well beyond just food and animal feed. Today, corn is the most widely grown crop in the United States and the US is the world’s largest exporter of corn. Corn’s rise to importance can be directly traced to biotechnology.

With a more valuable crop, the processing and storage becomes increasingly important. Additionally, as the versatility of the crop adapts, so does the technology used to handle that crop. A good example is high moisture corn – redesign of a processing system may be in order to accommodate its unique characteristics.

With the buzz around perceived problems of GMO’s, there is the need to keep GMO and “non-GMO” grain separate, sparking adjustments in handling and the technology used to identify non-GMO from GMO varieties

As more GMO grains become commercially available, we will see more changes to grain processing and handling. Who knows, maybe a hull-less wheat variety will be adapted and the trusty roller mill will look different in the future.

Improvements in Equipment

Improvements in grain processing equipment are triggered by scientific changes, like biotechnology. These changes will continue to play a part in the future of the grain industry. As the versatility of grain increases, the equipment used for processing is becoming more and more specialized. A good example is the wet-milling process to use corn starches in building materials or in pharmaceutical products.

Not only is the processing equipment changing to meet the demands of the current marketplace, the on-farm equipment is changing. The use of data collection sensors on tractors are improving the efficiency of grain farming and even the quality of the grain grown. The information gathered combines real time and historical data of weather, crop characteristics and soil conditions to help the farmer predict trends and improve value. Technology is changing at a rapid pace and in order to keep up, farmers may need to invest in new equipment.

The Importance of Proper Grain Storage

As your grain crop becomes more and more valuable each year, the importance of good on-farm storage becomes more and more critical to your harvest. Let Adams Grain Bins help you meet todays and tomorrows demand for quality grain with our selection of high quality grain bins and dyers.