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New Lethbridge College research project to develop improved grain drying strategies

Dr. Chandra Singh is the Applied Research chair in Agricultural Engineering and Technology at Lethbridge College’s Centre for Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship. He and his research team are undertaking one of the largest and most comprehensive on-farm grain-drying studies to be conducted in western Canada.

A new research project from Lethbridge College is aiming to help Alberta grain farmers cut their losses through improved storage technology and methods.

The project, one of the largest and most comprehensive on-farm grain-drying studies to be conducted in western Canada, is led by Dr. Chandra Singh, the Applied Research chair in Agricultural Engineering and Technology at Lethbridge College’s Centre for Applied Research, Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Singh and his team will deploy wireless smart sensing technology to monitor in‐bin grain storage conditions, including temperature and moisture levels, as well as an advanced automated fan and heater control system to dry the grain.

In 2018, Alberta produced nearly 31 per cent of Canadian wheat, 29 per cent of canola, 48 per cent of barley, and 20 per cent of oats, with crop market receipts totaling $6.9-billion.

Despite strong crop production, adverse weather conditions during recent harvests have hit Alberta growers hard.

In 2019 alone, the estimated total value of unharvested acres was $778-million.

“Such huge risks to the crops can be minimized by harvesting crops as soon as they reach maturity and grain can be artificially dried,” explained Singh. “However, inefficient drying can lead to grain spoilage, quality degradation, and excessive energy consumption, resulting in increased drying cost and high shrinkage due to over-drying. The technologies we are exploring in this project could allow farmers to start harvesting earlier to minimize adverse weather effects and to better manage the in‐storage grain with minimum spoilage risk.”

The three-year, $576,420 study is jointly funded by Alberta Grain Commission, Results Driven Agriculture Research, Alberta Innovates, Canadian Agricultural Partnership and Saskatchewan Wheat Development Commission.

“Dr. Singh’s research has the potential to yield substantial long-term economic and environmental benefits for Alberta grain producers,” said Clinton Dobson, Results Driven Agriculture Research’s research director. “This can help to further enhance Alberta’s reputation as an exporter of high-quality grain to global markets.”

Dr. Lauren Comin, director of research with the Alberta Wheat Commission, agrees, adding that grain farmers have been “plagued by difficult harvests recently and on-farm grain drying has become a necessity in many areas of the province. Our research and extension programs focus on providing producers solutions to their production challenges; Dr. Singh’s work seeks to provide additional knowledge farmers can draw on when making harvest and post-harvest decisions in non-ideal conditions.”

Singh is looking for wheat farmers with on-farm grain drying and storage capacity of between 20,000 and 50,000-bushel bins to participate in this project.

If the project shows promise, the technology and best practices could also help farmers of other major cereal grains as well as oil seeds and pulses.

“Storage bins with smart-sensing technology is at the forefront of grain-drying technology,” said Natisha Stashko, executive director of Smart Agriculture and Food with Alberta Innovates. “Alberta Innovates is pleased to partner with Dr. Singh and industry, and we look forward to benefits this innovation will bring to Alberta producers.”

Farmers interested in participating in this project are invited to contact Dr. Chandra Singh for more details at 587-899-8405 or chandra.singh@lethbridgecollege.ca.

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