Tuesday 26th May, 2020

Feeding the world

Agricultural infrastructure company Ag Growth International strives to achieve its goal of feeding the world with continuous innovation and technology.

Agricultural infrastructure company Ag Growth International strives to achieve its goal of feeding the world with continuous innovation and technology.

Agriculture is one of Australia’s most exposed industries to climate variability with droughts, floods and fires all capable of destroying crops and livelihoods.
According to the National Climate Change Adaption Research Facility (NCCARF)’s 2012 Adapting agriculture to climate change report, these extreme weather events are critical drivers of agricultural profitability, the most pervasive being drought.

“[Drought] disrupts cropping programs, reduces stock numbers, and erodes the productivity and resource base of farms, threatening long-term sustainability,” the report reads.

It also found that, by 2030, rainfall is projected to decrease by two to five per cent across Australia, except in northern parts of the country.

The economic impacts of these events are widespread, costing the agricultural industry billions of dollars. The National Farmers Federation’s (NFF) Food, fibre & forestry facts report estimates the gross value of Australian agriculture would fall from $62.208 billion in 2018-19 to $59.353 billion in 2019-20, primarily due to the drought.

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Building infrastructure that improves resilience is key for agricultural businesses to thrive in a changing market and environment. In addition, the NFF says efficiency gains through new technologies and farm management practices have enabled Australia to stay a step ahead of international competitors and led to productivity growth.

Driving productivity higher is a key goal for agricultural infrastructure company Ag Growth International (AGI), which provides the tools needed for farmers, ports, food manufacturers and bulk handlers to adapt and grow.

Peter Forster, AGI Business Manager, says an essential part of providing food security is to control and validate grain conditions correctly. Through AGI’s extensive product catalogue they deliver solutions for storage, handling, processing, technology and structures for farm and commercial applications.

“Keeping grain in pristine condition is the objective of any farmer or commercial operator,” he says. “AGI’s conditioning technology enables the operator to achieve these complex and demanding challenges.”

As part of its offering, the company has developed a software platform called SureTrack, which aims to help farmers make the most out of their resources and help bulk handlers effectively manage inventories.

The platform allows users to access data to select seed, make irrigation and field management decisions, manage grain after the harvest, and know when and where to market grain.

Condition monitoring

The platform includes a sophisticated control system for condition monitoring, using drying and rehydration curves across a number of grain varieties. Coupled with internal and external temperature and moisture sensors, SureTrack bin manager also helps operators manage the quality of their product.

This information can be accessed directly through email or a mobile app to keep operators aware of the state of their grain no matter where they are.

Jeff Cruzen, Dryer Business Development Manager at AGI, says the system will add value for the customer.

“In today’s world, the food industry is trying to track product from seed to table,” he says. “SureTrack is an additional way to do this while providing quality at the end.”

Three major factors in improving grain are drying, cooling and fumigation.
Cruzen, who has more than 21 years of experience with grain drying, says the process must consider each of these factors to ensure the grain remains within the ideal parameters.

“Drying is made up of three components – air, heat, and time,” he says. “There are a lot of variables to consider, like the overall quality of the crop, ambient temperatures, relative humidity, the genetics, chemicals in the growing season or overall conditions during the harvest season.”

Correct cooling levels, especially in hot and humid climates such as Australia, help reduce mould, insect growth and lets the grain be stored for longer. In particular, some crops, like malt barley, need to be cooled to reach the quality levels required of the manufacturing process.

What makes cooling difficult is the availability of fresh and dry air. To make the process easier for grain handlers, AGI has built climate control and cooling objectives into its digital platform and can model a user’s operation to correctly size fans. This modelling helps inform the correct aeration flooring and vent distribution for the design and can be used to implement automated cooling control.

Insects have the capacity to destroy the quality of a crop, making fumigation an essential process. However, fumigation protocols require time and the correct concentration of gas levels to work effectively.

AGI’s silo-sealing technology is based on Australian Standard AS2628. A sealing membrane is installed into the silo vents, transitions and doors, as well as a recirculation and pressure-relief system.

Forster says that the company can take this to the next level by using carbon dioxide sensor technology.

“By achieving early detection of insect and mould development, this enables a farmer or operator to make an initial decision that eliminates product spoilage,” he says.

He adds that the digital tools available in the SureTrack platform provide the agricultural industry with the knowledge it needs to improve the adaptability and resilience of the entire supply chain.

“Feeding the world is our goal at AGI and to do that we need the infrastructure and technology to process and protect millions of tonnes of inputs and crops flowing around the world daily,” he says.

“By slashing supply chain inefficiencies and improving the quality of grain we already have, the industry is better placed to get food to the people and animals that need it.”