By Linda McGraw
November 1, 1999
The first commercially available instrument to quickly detect quality in single grain kernels has been developed, based on several years of teamwork between Agricultural Research Service scientists in Manhattan, Kan., and an Illinois instrument manufacturer.
The Perten SKCS 4170, made and sold by Perten Instruments in Springfield, Ill., combines a single kernel hardness tester with near-infrared (NIR) technology. Perten employees will demonstrate the device Nov. 1-4 at a meeting of the American Association of Cereal Chemists in Seattle.
ARS researchers are using the instrument in studies to improve food quality and safety. They originally designed the single kernel hardness tester to separate hard and soft wheat. But the instrument can be calibrated to measure many quality attributes--such as hardness, protein, starch, internal insect infestation, color or disease--in single kernels. To confirm these characteristics would ordinarily require time-consuming chemical analysis.
Now, with this first-of-its-kind technology, grain quality can be checked at a rate of one kernel per second. For instance, if one kernel out of 100 has scab damage, this machine will detect it. Scab is a disease that has cost some wheat growers billions of dollars in losses. Grain inspectors have had to rely on subjective visual inspection to assess grain quality. The infrared portion of the new instrument performs a quick check on each kernel, measuring quality attributes comprised of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen.
Finding still more uses for the device, ARS researchers in Manhattan are showing that the NIR portion of the instrument can be used to differentiate damaged and sound figs. And the instrument can determine the age of flies, species of stored grain insects, and whether flies or weevils have been parasitized. This information is important for improving insect control programs.