28 December 2001

E-dressing kills seed diseases – and no chemicals

YOU have heard of e-mail, e-business and e-commerce; now its the turn of e-dressing of seed.

Not that it is anything to do with the internet; instead e-dressing involves bombarding seed (wheat or barley) with accelerated electrons to protect it from disease, rather than using chemical treatments.

The principle has been on test since the 1980s, first in the former East Germany and more recently at the Fraunhofer Institute at Dresden.

It involves using a 150,000v charge to produce a beam of electrons that can then break down the molecular structure – and thereby kill all diseases – on the outer coating of the grain.

Commercial production of equipment to do this has been taken over by grain handling firm Schmidt, which had the first 30t/hour mobile unit on show at Agritechnica.

Corn passes through a one-grain-wide gap in a 1.4m x 7cm screen while a pair of electron guns ensure that all sides are covered.

This process should not be confused with food industry-style irradiation, says Schmidts product manager Hans-Jurgen Schaller. Radioactivity stops the moment a grain moves out of the beams path. The advantage is that no chemicals have to be used, which should please increasingly fussy German consumers.

But the DM3.5m (£1.2m) cost of the mobile unit means e-dressing is not likely to happen on farms in the immediate future. But large grain merchants are said to be very interested. &#42

Firing a beam of accelerated electrons at grain does wonders for cleanliness.