CLIMATE change, making it potentially harder to store grain safely, could make the recent launch of a new research organisation particularly timely.
The International Centre for Safe Commodity Storage, set up last November, pools the resources of five key research centres having expertise in a wide range of areas.
The strategic alliance aims to provide "plough to plate" solutions on storage issues, says director Ken Wildey.
Preventing mycotoxins arising from fungal infections of stored grain is likely to become more challenging for two reasons, he explains.
An EU Directive limiting levels to 5ppb, due to have been imposed this summer, is almost sure to be ratified within 12 months. "And if, as expected, global warming leads to warmer and wetter harvests here, mycotoxin problems for UK farmers are bound to increase."
With increasing emphasis on quality and safety, and new challenges arising from food trends, chemical use and resistance, as well as climate change, the new body is ideally placed to help both industry and the government, explains Dr Wildey.
The biological, engineering and food chain skills of the ICSCS partners across a range of commodities will permit a speedier response to problems caused by insects, mites, fungi, toxins, rodents and allergens.
Besides cereals and oilseed rape, the groups know-how covers cocoa, coffee, dried fruit and tobacco.
"The UK has world-class technical researchers with international reputations. But they are spread across several organisations. With pressures on funding and our observation that there was some duplication of effort in a relatively small market, continuing as before was not good for us or our customers."
In an industry survey last summer ICSCS contacted about 160 companies representing about 12 different sectors and found 89% of respondents wanted better communication between research institutes, industry, academic bodies and the government, he says.
ICSCS can cover all aspects of storage along the supply chain, and by improving communication provide integrated, sustainable and cost-effective solutions. "Our aim is to raise food quality and enhance food safety."
Much of the emphasis within farming will be on knowledge transfer, through links with HGCA. "Clearly there will always be a need for new research. But in many cases the answers to storage problems already exist – its just that people arent doing the basic things right.
"We need to understand why that is." He hopes an ICSCS questionnaire at the Grain Event, Stoneleigh, Warks on Nov 21 may provide some answers.
• Grain trade.
• Animal feeds.
• Campden & Chorleywood Food Research Association: milling/baking, microbiology, retailing.
• Central Science Laboratory: pest monitoring, allergens, biocontrol, fumigation.
• Natural Resources Institute: tropical agriculture & commodity management, mycotoxins, pest management.
• Scottish Agricultural College: grain cooling & drying, potatoes.
• Silsoe Research Institute: engineering, risk analysis, image analysis, localised cooling.