Quality Assurance at Harvest
October 16, 2018
Stringent protocols mean high-quality seed for sunflower growers.
Quality assurance is the cornerstone of Nuseed’s business, says Garrett Driver, the company’s North American supply chain manager. “Not only are we offering the right genetics for a given market and geographic area, but we’re also ensuring the product quality in the bag is reliably consistent for growers, year after year,” he says.
From planting to putting seed into growers’ hands, Driver analyzes each production step along the way to create high-quality sunflower seed.
“Ensuring quality is a big part of what we do,” he says. “It’s also the most complicated part of what we do, since we’re dealing with a living organism: it’s seed, it’s alive. Our job is to manage that life from the field to the farmer who plants that seed.”
Seed Quality and Harvest
To produce high-quality seed, field inspections are performed throughout the entire growing season. However, seed quality is most affected by the field’s physical conditions at harvest, says Driver. At this time, the quality assurance team makes its final inspections, which determines if a sunflower field meets Nuseed’s specifications.
Fields are inspected for foreign matter, weeds or other undesirable pests that could get into clean grain or seed samples. “At that point, we’re monitoring the physical condition of the seed in the fields. That final check or inspection for a field’s quality at harvest is essentially our go or no-go signal for taking the field from a seed grower,” says Driver.
Nuseed’s production team has little tolerance for weeds and other crop seeds. “As we get more valuable seed going into customers’ hands, the last thing we want to have is any weed seeds going with that seed to customers’ fields. The tolerance is always zero,” he says.
Tolerance is also low for another physical impurity – damaged seed. “Not only do we have higher standards for overall physical purity, we also have higher standards for damaged seed. Those two things show the focus Nuseed has on providing quality seed to our customers,” he says.
Harvesting the cleanest seed possible helps satisfy physical seed and genetic purity standards. “A seed crop must be true to type so the hybrid you’re producing is the hybrid you’re harvesting,” says Driver.
The seed moisture content level at harvest also affects quality and is monitored to ensure the seed is “coming off with high germination and better value for our customers,” he says.
If all of those factors measure up to Nuseed’s standards, a seed grower is given the go ahead to combine the field. However, before they enter sunflower fields, combines must be made “kernel clean.”
Kernel clean means no other sunflower or crop seeds are present in the combine or header. “It’s an important part of our harvest protocol. It’s also something that takes significant time,” he says.
Before a new sunflower variety is harvested, the combine must be thoroughly cleaned, including the removal of panels, and in some cases, unbolting doors and sheet metal siding for cleanout and inspection purposes.
In addition, the trucks and trailers moving between growers’ fields and Nuseed’s receiving plant must be kernel clean. Trailers and trucks will be cleaned by hand using air or a vacuum to remove any physical impurity prior to seed transport. “We do that for every field and every load,” says Driver.
For growers, these stringent protocols are significant. “They’re getting cleaner seed, they’re getting purer seed, and they’re not seeing as much inert matter in that bag when they open it up,” he says.
In fact, one harvested lot of seed may be tested at least nine times before it ends up in a Nuseed bag, says Driver.
“We are handling the seed numerous times throughout the process, including repeatedly analyzing it to determine if it does or doesn’t meet our specifications,” he says. “It really supports the confidence we have in our process, which puts high-quality Nuseed product into a bag every time. [Quality assurance] is not something we look at in the end. We look at it from the beginning, and monitor it all the way through.”