Reflections on grain quality by Denys Slee

Photo of Brian Osborne experimenting

Breeders will be able to make earlier informed decisions about grain qualities in new wheat lines, thanks to state-of-the-art technology.

According to Brian Osborne, "using NIR technology (near infrared reflectance) large numbers of samples can, for the first time, be tested at an acceptable cost in the window between harvest and sowing".

Dr Osborne heads the Grain Industries Centre for NIR, a GRDC-supported consortium of 13 research organisations from five states, with BRI Australia Ltd as the lead agency.

Dr Osborne said comprehensive grain quality testing of new lines was not previously possible until about the sixth generation because current testing procedures require relatively large amounts of grain.

"Now we can do these tests much earlier in the breeding cycle, because you need far less grain with the NIR process than with standard procedures.

"Apart from the quick turnaround and seed quantity aspects, NIR testing is also non-destructive - the grain doesn't have to be ground and can be used for further breeding if required."

The Centre plans to exploit NIR for the cereal, pulse, oilseeds and rice sectors. NIR testing is already in place in breeding programs and in field assessments for growers - specifically for assessing the nitrogen status of plants at tillering. It is also used for measuring protein and moisture levels at grain receival sites. Some growers also enlist NIR to blend wheat for specific markets - and the technology has even wider application.

In the grain processing sector, for example, profits are linked to the amount of flour that can be extracted from a given quantity of grain, plus the quality of the grain.

"NIR can assist in identifying the quality characteristics such as protein and starch," Dr Osborne said.

"NIR also has the potential to assist in deciding whether barley lines will make malting quality and to assess grain hardness and dough extensibility, and we hope to use it to measure digestible energy levels in grain."

Dr Osborne said feed grain marketers are very interested in the direction of the research.

Subprogram 1.2.3 Contact: Dr Brian Osborne 02 9888 9600

NIR - a layperson's guide

Take a few grains (or some dried tissue from a growing plant) and put them into the NIR instrument. Light from the machine penetrates the grain and when it is reflected or transmitted, carries 'signals' which translate, with the help of a computer, into the amounts of differing components which make up the grain - i.e. protein levels, oil levels, moisture and so on

Hey, presto!

  • no chemicals needed to dissolve the material being analysed
  • no waste disposal problems, and
  • you can re-use the grain.

In essence, high throughput at a low cost per test with multiple testing being done simultaneously.