WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- Linda Mason, a Purdue University entomologist who studies insects in stored grain and food, just couldn't convince commercial grain handlers to let her use their grain bins for her research.
"Understandably, nobody liked the idea of me adding insects to their grain bins and then monitoring the results," Mason says.
Consequently, much of her research had been conducted in a laboratory using 55-gallon drums filled with grain and insects to mimic pest problems encountered in real agricultural situations.
Dirk Maier, a Purdue agricultural and biological engineer specializing in grain handling, storage and processing, had the same problem. "We needed a place where we could conduct state-of-the-art research without worrying about contaminating someone else's grain," he says.
As early as 1992, Mason and Maier began traveling to Australia, Cyprus, Germany and even Kansas and Oklahoma to gather ideas that would help them build the finest grain handling research facility in the world.
In 1993, they asked Charles Woloshuk (a Purdue botany and plant pathology specialist in feed and grain mycotoxins) to join their team and examine problems caused by molds in stored grain.
The collaboration produced a unique three-pronged research team attacking grain storage problems with the help of a new education and research center at Purdue.
The Post-Harvest Education and Research Center at Purdue's Agronomy Research Center includes 16 500-bushel-capacity mini-bins filled for the first time last fall with corn produced specifically for the team's research projects.
Three years of fund-raising (about $100,000) and gift soliciting ($100,000 worth of equipment from private industry), have made the first phase of the Post Harvest Education and Research Center a reality. CTB Brock Bins donated the mini-bins. Farm Fans of Indianapolis contributed a new continuous flow dryer. Other companies provided fans, computer hardware and software.
The bins, built in parallel rows of eight, have catwalks that provide easy access to the stored grain. Phase II of the project calls for construction of 16 additional bins and enhancement of the existing grain handling and storage facilities. This will allow researchers to scale up their experimental work, and to tackle storage problems in grains other than field corn and soybeans.
"This is a great step up for us," Mason says. "The technologies that we are testing now can easily move up to the commercial-size storage facilities."
They've found that working together helps produce more useful solutions for real-world problems.
"I don't look for something that is going to be great for insects but is terrible for molds or the condition of the grain," Mason says.
"And I don't try to design ways to aerate stored grain if it's going to aggravate the bugs," Maier adds. "We always attack every problem with a three-pronged approach."
Two research projects were completed during the center's first year of operation. The first looked at the use of ozone to control pests, while the second project compared ozonation, chilling and aeration's effects on pest populations. Maier presented some of the data at the Seventh International Working Conference on Stored Product Protection in Beijing, China, in October.
As farmers diversify into production of more specialty crops (such as white corn, high-oil corn, popcorn, canola, flaxseed, sorghum and millet) that have more stringent handling requirements than field corn and soybeans, the research center will be able to help answer many of the handling questions.
A third phase, as money becomes available, would include construction of a building that would house a wet- and dry-grain milling lab as well as a training center where students, producers and researchers could gain hands-on knowledge from Purdue's post-harvest research.
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