By Scott Shiels

In this issue, I would like to touch on certain grading factors that can differentiate milling grains from feed grains, and to point out various reasons those factors will reduce your chances of making the grade. 

As an oat miller, Grain Millers has tough specs to meet when you sell us your grain. The main reason for this is simple: we are making food, and with that comes very rigid specifications. The food industry has tightened up its tolerances in recent years, and rightly so. Recalls due to health concerns or illnesses can be very costly to companies, but food safety and keeping people healthy is our number one concern. For this reason, the quality and consistency of the products we produce is of the utmost importance, and the specs of the grain we buy are the first step to ensure we meet or exceed those expectations. 

Moisture is likely one of the most questioned specs in the grain industry. Besides the fact that tough grain is subject to spoiling and insect proliferation, tough grain also does not process properly. Millers try to buy grain in a moisture range that works in their mill, and that will provide consistency throughout their processes. If you can run at a consistent speed that makes your process more efficient and easier to manage. 

Likely the next most questioned spec we run into is test weight. In this case, the weight is not actually what we are chasing, but it is indicative of other issues with the grain such as the percentage of plump kernels, which is essential for good quality milling products. One thing that we have learned, especially in oats, is that different varieties have different shapes and sizes, and for this reason, sometimes a lighter weight oat can still be usable for milling due to its nice plump groats. 

One of the things to watch for when harvesting, or handling your oats post-harvest, is dehulling them, or skinning them. Certain varieties dehull easier than others, and oats definitely dehull easier the drier they become. It is very important you monitor your sample as you harvest to maintain a level of dehulled oats under the eight per cent spec. I have been asked this question, “why does it matter when you have to dehull them to mill them?” The answer to this lies in the shelf life of the finished product. When oats are dehulled, they immediately begin the deterioration process, which could lead to rancidity if they are not steam kilned shortly after, which is what we do at a mill. Another reason for this is the integrity of the product when it gets to the mill. When we dehull our oats, the process takes the hulls off the whole oats. When bare groats hit the dehuller, most of them are smashed up and go to a byproduct stream, which is far less valuable to us. 

Another thing that has become more of an issue in recent years is contamination of other grains, particularly gluten containing grains, soy and mustards. These are all potential allergens, and, as most of you know, celiac disease is on the rise. With that, the demand for gluten free foods is also increasing significantly. Oats are inherently gluten free, but due to crop rotations and a tolerance allowable in the seed industry, they are often contaminated by these other grains. 

As with anything, it really comes down to knowing what your customer wants and doing your best to provide them with exactly that. 

Until next time…