As the major source of human nutrition, grain production is a vital industry. Grain spoilage not only increases costs for the food industry, but also raises environmental and food safety issues.
The TGM System captures and models weather and sensor data, and automatically adjusts atmospheric conditions in grain bins to keep humidity within thresholds that minimize the risk of spoilage.
Improvesgrain quality, cutting cost and risk for farmers, food companies and consumers
Increasesfood safety by reducing the amount of spoiled grain that enters the food chain
Boostsyields and reduces waste, minimizing the environmental impact of grain production
Business challenge story
Disrupting a multi-billion-dollar industry
Food waste and food safety are among the hottest political topics in the United States. According to ReFED—an organization founded to create a roadmap to reduce food waste—the US spends USD218 billion per year on growing, processing, transporting and disposing of food that is never eaten.1
Much of this waste is caused by contamination during the production process, which also has an impact on food safety. In 2011, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) introduced the Food Safety Modernization Act (FSMA), which aims to increase food safety by focusing on preventing contamination rather than simply responding to it.
Currently, however, grain production is exempt from some of the requirements of the FSMA. This is a major limitation, since a significant proportion of human nutrition—some 60 to 80 percent, according to many estimates—comes either directly or indirectly from grain. Corn, wheat and other cereals, rice, soybeans, oilseeds, legumes and pulses are dietary staples both in the US and around the world; they also provide feed for livestock and poultry in the meat, egg and dairy industries. Grain that has been contaminated by mold or insect activity potentially poses serious health risks for both humans and animals—yet today, there is no easy way to prevent at least some proportion of spoiled kernels from finding their way into the food chain.
Daniel Kallestad, Founder of TGM, explains: “Historically, it has been almost impossible to establish a workable standard for grain purity—the technology simply hasn’t existed. At TGM, we aim to change that—and in doing so, we expect to transform the entire industry.
“Since the 1970s, we have been selling process control systems that help growers and other grain market participants store their grain safely. We learned that by monitoring the atmospheric conditions, we could provide a proactive approach—running fans to prevent grain spoilage, which works extremely well.
“By gathering information on the airflow through a grain mass, we can measure the progress of moisture change. This helps growers make smarter decisions about when to use the fans—which prevents the growth of mold and the incursion of insects, enabling grain to be stored for many months without any deterioration in quality. It also provides data that can be used to verify the conditions in which the grain has been stored, as well as helping growers lower their costs and optimize their marketing decisions.”
However, decades of experience in the grain storage sector have taught TGM that managing and monitoring aeration systems is no simple task. For busy farmers and traders, whose main business is growing or selling grain, storage management is not a core skill—and without the right expertise to manage and adjust the fan systems, there is still a risk that crops can be spoiled.
Christopher Sears, Vice President at TGM, says: “We realized that with over 1 million bin-years of experience, we were in a unique position to make the next generation of aeration systems even smarter. By using Internet of Things technologies to monitor weather and storage conditions in real time at each bin site, and harnessing sophisticated models and algorithms, we would be able to predict problems and proactively adjust the fan controllers in real time to maintain consistently perfect conditions in every bin.”
Daniel Kallestad adds: “More significant still: if we could capture and store all this data on the conditions in each bin, we would be able to prove that the grain within those bins had never been subjected to conditions that would allow spoilage to occur. This effectively amounts to a certification that the grain is 100 percent pure. And that’s what is really going to shake up this industry. Once food companies and regulators—and consumers—realize that it’s possible to obtain perfect grain, with full traceability from harvesting through to delivery, they won’t settle for anything less.”
Going against the grain
To turn its vision into a reality, TGM needed a database platform that would enable it to harness the power of Internet of Things (IoT) technologies, while providing complete reliability and scalability to meet the needs of tens of thousands of customers.
“We’ll be working with some of the largest and most powerful companies in the agriculture and food industries, so we can’t afford our technology to fail,” says Daniel Kallestad. “And the technical challenge is significant: we need to capture weather data from the bin site and sensor data from the bins themselves on a minute-by-minute basis, as well as capture their location down to the centimeter. With a potential market of more than 300,000 grain storage sites in the US alone, that’s an enormous amount of data to capture, store and analyze.”
Christopher Sears adds: “We decided to work with IBM for a couple of key reasons. The first was that IBM has a solid reputation for solving these kinds of large-scale problems, and is well-known and respected by the major players in government and the food industry. These are the organizations that will create demand for our solution, and having a big name like IBM in our corner is important to give them confidence that we can deliver what we promise.”
“The second was that the IBM® Informix® database platform offered exactly what we needed for our Internet of Things solution. IBM Informix is capable of being embedded in relatively small devices, such as IoT Gateways, and it has zero administrative overhead. It can reliably capture massive volumes of time-series and geospatial data at very high velocity, which is critical to IoT solutions.
“IBM Informix is also able to replicate that data to the cloud, where it can provide enterprise class hybrid data management capabilities across various data types, besides offering very fine-grained security whether the data is at rest in the database, or in motion. That last point is important: the grain industry is extremely sensitive about its quality and inventory levels, so we need to be able to assure our customers that all data will be in safe hands.”
The solution—known as the TGM System—includes an advanced weather station called a SiteLink, which captures very precise weather data from unique relative humidity sensors that use micro-beam technology. The SiteLink is connected to the other components of the system using Power-over-ethernet technology, which avoids the need to include a power supply in the SiteLink itself. This minimizes the heat generated within the SiteLink, thereby improving the accuracy of its readings.
The second major component is the Bin Intelligence device, or “Bintel”—a master controller that collects weather data from the SiteLink and combines it with data captured by the sensors and fan actuators that are installed on each storage bin. The bin sensors are connected to the Bintel via Ethernet-over-power links, which reduces costs and facilitates installation by transmitting data over existing electrical cabling.
The weather and bin data are captured by an IBM Informix database embedded in the Bintel, which in turn connects to TGM’s secure private network and replicates the information to a central IBM Informix database. The data can then be accessed via iPAC, a tablet app that gives authorized users a real-time dashboard that shows the status of each bin, and allows users to adjust the settings of the automated fan systems, or even take manual control if they wish.
Daniel Kallestad comments: “We looked at a more traditional relational database alongside Informix, and there was just no contest. Almost all of the capabilities we need are built into Informix as standard, so it has saved us a huge amount of development time—in particular around time-series data and replication. It’s the engine that makes the whole solution possible.”
Building a smarter, safer, more sustainable future
Over the next 12 months, TGM expects to have rolled out this new Internet of Things solution to more than 1,000 sites. Once growers and food companies begin to realize the benefits, TGM hopes to gain the momentum it needs to encourage transformation throughout the entire US grain industry.
Daniel Kallestad says: “Our competitors watch the grain; we watch the weather. They can tell you when your grain has started to spoil—but by that point, it’s already too late. Our system takes action to prevent spoilage from happening in the first place, by maintaining conditions that make mold and insect activity practically impossible.
“It’s a simple proposition, but it’s very difficult for growers to understand, because they’re coming from a mindset that grain spoilage is not preventable. For them, it’s just a matter of how long it takes before the level of spoilage reaches unacceptable levels. We’re saying that if you use the TGM System, your grain will not spoil—at all—within the time it takes to reach the end-customer.”
In a world where as much as 30 percent of grain production is currently ruined by spoilage, this is welcome news—not just for farmers and food companies, but for humanity as a whole. Avoiding food waste means we can feed more people while consuming fewer natural resources—and since rainforests and river basins are being depleted at an unsustainable rate to support a growing population, the more efficient our agriculture becomes, the better it is for everyone.
The government and healthcare sectors should also be keen to see traceability systems such as TGM’s gain wider traction in the grain industry. If grain shipments can be certified as free of contamination and full traceability from farm of origin to end-customer can be put in place, the risk of poisonous mycotoxins being introduced into the food chain could be significantly mitigated—potentially saving billions of dollars in healthcare costs.
On a more immediately practical level, the financial benefits of the solution should be significant. Research indicates that taking into account the costs of implementing a grain purity tracking system, growers will be able to make significant profits by commanding a higher price per bushel for purer qualities of grain. For the highest-quality identity-preserved grains, profits could be in excess of 50 percent per bushel.2
The solution could also help farmers significantly mitigate risk by making smarter decisions about how long to store grain and when to sell it. Without violating the privacy of individual participants, the TGM System will provide the best supply picture available, so that growers can better understand demand patterns, and avoid selling at a low price during the post-harvest glut.
“This also provides a new business opportunity for TGM,” explains Christopher Sears. “In the history of the farming industry, it has never been possible to buy grain spoilage insurance, because no insurer has ever been confident enough in traditional grain storage. We’ve taken out a patent on this type of insurance, because we’re confident that we could offer it to TGM customers with a minimum of risk.”
Daniel Kallestad concludes: “A change is coming to the grain industry. Soon enough, the food companies will understand that they don’t have to accept contamination in the grain they buy; the government will realize that quality standards can be applied to grain just as much as to other foods; and the general public will learn about the health and environmental cost of today’s outdated working practices.
“With IBM Informix, running on IBM POWER8® systems, powering our Internet of Things solution, we can not only help the industry solve all of these problems—we will also deliver measurable return on investment for growers and other market participants by eliminating waste and boosting profits. In our opinion, it’s a deal that is too good for the industry to ignore.”
About Targeted Grain Management
Targeted Grain Management (TGM) provides technology and services to help growers and other participants in the grain industry safely store, manage and preserve grains of all types. Developed based on decades of experience in the grain storage industry, the TGM System provides a monitoring and control solution that harnesses the Internet of Things to proactively manage atmospheric conditions within storage bins to combat mold and insect activity, minimize spoilage and maximize quality.
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Take the next step
If you are a leader in the food industry and would like to learn more about how TGM can help your company transition to safer grain ingredients, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit tgmsystem.com. To learn more about IBM Informix, please contact your IBM representative or IBM Business Partner. IBM Analytics offers one of the world's deepest and broadest analytics platform, domain and industry solutions that deliver new value to businesses, governments and individuals. For more information about how IBM Analytics helps to transform industries and professions with data, visit ibm.com/analytics. Follow us on Twitter at @IBMAnalytics.