The US Agricultural Research Service (ARS) has said it has been testing various instruments that may one day be used to help farmers quickly detect the location of high-quality wheat.

Buyers will pay a premium for high-quality wheat with specific levels of protein, depending on how the wheat will be used. High-protein wheat is preferable for making bread, but low-protein wheat is used in cakes, cookies and crackers.

Dan Long, an ARS agronomist, is currently working with two firms to develop and test spectroscopic devices that use fibre optics and near-infrared light to measure the protein concentration of grain. Attached to a combine, the device measures the protein content of wheat during the harvesting operation.

In addition to protein, the optical sensors can measure fat, oil, carbohydrate and moisture levels in grain. By knowing this information, farmers may one day be able to segregate grain during harvest and transfer operations, based on the grain’s specific qualities.

ARS is the US Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific research agency.