Preserving the identity of grain with special characteristics is likely to become increasingly important for producers and other grain handlers.

The task will be to keep special crops separate and free from contamination by other crops and to prove the separation has been maintained. Bill Wilcke, engineer with the University of Minnesota Extension Service, has the following suggestions regarding identity preservation (IP):

--Develop a customer-service attitude. Identity preservation may be critical for customer satisfaction, and premium prices could be at stake. Although auditing and testing may be part of most IP programs, honesty and trust also are important. Violation of that trust is likely to result in loss of customer confidence, premium prices and future marketing opportunities.

--Know what is in the contract. If a farmer is producing a crop under contract, check the contract for information on identity preservation.

--Develop an IP plan. Draw a flowchart or make a list of all the steps involved in producing a crop from seed to final delivery and try to anticipate all points where contamination could occur. Then develop a plan to minimize contamination at each crop production and handling step, record the plan and document actions to implement the plan.

--Consider growing and storing IP crops in separate locations. If a producer owns or rents farms that are some distance apart, this will make the IP process easier. Even if a producer doesn't have separate farms, with separate grain handling systems, consider storing IP crops in bins that are not tied into the grain handling system used for other crops.

--Keep detailed records. Use names or numbers to identify each field, grain bin and grain hauling vehicle and consider placing signs or labels on each field, bin or vehicle. Develop a record system that is complete, but easy for you and others to understand. Record planting dates, field location and size, seed identity, inputs used, harvest date, yield, bin number where crop is stored, date crop is delivered, the name of the person who delivered the crop and the number of the vehicle used.

--Clean equipment between crops. This includes planters, combines, trucks, dump pits, grain conveyors, dryers and storage bins. Use self-cleaning equipment, or at least equipment that is easy to clean.

--Keep an eye on custom operations. If a farmer hires others to harvest, haul, dry, clean or do anything else with the grain, make sure they understand the concepts and importance of identity preservation. Watch to make sure they clean their equipment and that grain is not contaminated. Record names, dates, amounts and locations to document custom operations.

--Keep samples. Consider taking samples of the seed, of the harvested crop and of the delivered crop, attaching meaningful labels, and keeping the samples until the final buyer is satisfied that the crop meets identity and quality standards.

--Watch costs. Make sure price premiums for identity-preserved crops exceed the IP costs. These include labor for cleaning equipment, time and systems for record keeping, inspection fees, employee training, any extra equipment that is needed and opportunity costs for empty space in partially filled bins, etc. Also, consider the risk of contamination, and marketing options if the crop doesn't meet the standards of the intended market.

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