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Published September 24, 2012, 11:22 AM

Sieve stress

A hot, dry summer has led to small kernels in canola crops in many areas, and some producers are upset about a change in dockage policies by major processors.

By: Mikkel Pates, Agweek

FARGO, N.D. — A hot, dry summer has led to small kernels in canola crops in many areas, and some producers are upset about a change in dockage policies by major processors.

Doug Lemieux of Rolette, N.D., harvested Nexera canola, a new Dow AgroSciences variety, from mid-August to early September, on contract with the Enderlin, N.D., Archer Daniels Midland plant. Moisture content was 4 to 5 percent, so there were some cracked kernels.

Lemieux delivered canola to satisfy a September contract to Rolla Cooperative Grain Co., a holding point for ADM. Samples were sent to Enderlin to be graded by the North Dakota Grain Inspection Service, a private licensee of the Federal Grain Inspection Service.

But when he got his first dockage “returns,” he was disappointed. He typically has 0.5 to 0.8 percent dockage, and expected up to 1.5 percent this year. Instead, the dockage reports came back at about 2 to 7 percent.

Lemieux was surprised to learn that ADM had changed the sieve size, which determines dockage. Instead of using a 0.035-inch screen, they went to a larger 0.0395-inch sieve screen hole, which means more of the material falls through as dockage.

Guy Christensen, an ADM merchandising manager at the company’s plant near Enderlin, didn’t immediately return calls to discuss the change.

Informing the industry

One elevator operator in Cavalier (N.D.) County acknowledged that ADM had informed the industry of the change in expected sieve size about two weeks before harvest. He said his elevator changed its sieve size accordingly because ADM is a major buyer in the market, but that his elevator so far had been shipping canola elsewhere.

Barry Coleman, executive director of the Northern Canola Association, on Sept. 19 said ADM had been using the 0.035-inch sieve for the past few years because canola was plumper in those years and oil content was higher, but increased to 0.0395 this year, which is its legal right. But Coleman said ADM had changed back to 0.035 a week earlier, a fact that the Cavalier County elevator wasn’t aware of. He didn’t know if any other processors besides ADM used the bigger sieves.

Coleman said typical dockage levels in canola crops run about 2.5 percent and this year were about 4.5 percent. Canola in the north is usually plumper and has less dockage than farther south. “I haven’t heard of anything over 7.5 percent” dockage, Coleman said. Lemieux said he knows of dockage that was 20 to 30 percent, which Coleman said was considerably outside anything he’d heard of.

Lemieux is particularly rankled by the fact that the smaller seeds are crushed for oil and then go into the “meal pit” just like the larger seeds. Canola meal at North Central Grain Cooperative in Rolette was selling at $440 a ton, or 22 cents a pound.

“If there’s a 2 percent reduction in the value of a crop, that’s $8 an acre and there’s millions of acres of canola in North Dakota. That’s $8 million that comes out of the hands of the farmers out here that won’t cycle through the general economy,” Lemieux said.

He added that his Lemieux Farms contract with ADM is a “total production” contract. He’s asked whether he can clean the dockage out of the grain before he delivers it. He said dockage out of a 50,000-pound semi load would be worth more than $500 as cattle feed.

Lemieux would like the industry to pay for canola based on oil content, like it does for sunflower oil. “The only dockage would be foreign material.”

Farmers should negotiate screen sizes in contracts on canola with buyers, he advised.