The why, what and how of Fumigation in grain operations

  • 07/07/2022
  • 11 分钟

Would you be able to take a packet of insect-infested beans from a supermarket shelf? With just this phrase you can understand the importance of caring for cargo in the hold of bulk carriers.

You can also listen to this article in the audio version.

Therefore, today we will address a process within the preparation of bulk cargo for commercialization, especially when we talk about maritime export: fumigation.

To help us understand this technique and its operation, we invited two experts on the subject: Philip Leslie, Wilson Sons Shipping Agency, and Marcus Vinícius John Leque, engineer at Ecotec Brasil Tratamentos Fitossanitários. Keep reading!

What is fumigation?

Fumigation is a chemical procedure performed on bulk grain cargoes in order to eliminate insects that may depreciate the goods or present a risk to the product or to the people who handle and consume it.

It is a dry method, using chemical compounds in a gas state that fill a hermetically sealed cargo storage environment and thus can penetrate and act in all free areas, however small the space may be between the grains.

Some examples of fumigants used in Brazil are Phosphine and Methyl Bromide, each used in more appropriate situations, and both approved by the Ministry of Agriculture, Livestock and Food Supply (MAPA).

What is its primary role?

According to Vinícius, a specialist in this type of procedure, “the objective is to eliminate insects that are found in them, in the various stages of their evolutionary cycle, in hermetically sealed places, through gases toxic to them”.

With the sealing of the storage environment, it is possible to achieve optimal pest control results without endangering human health. With a product free of harmful agents, after ventilation of the cargo, fumigation guarantees the quality, durability and reliability on the bulk grain to be exported.

How does it work in grain operation?

Fumigation can be carried out at various times in the logistics between the harvest and the arrival of the grains at their destination. However, due to market needs and the greater ease of control and help of port intelligence service, it is usually carried out in the port, soon after the end of completion of loading.

This procedure is done directly in the cargo storage environment, such as cargo holds, silos, warehouses and containers. It is a procedure that needs attention to the schedule to avoid delays and losses for all companies involved.

“Cargo fumigation is usually carried out at the port of loading, so that when the ship arrives at the port of unloading, the necessary time has elapsed to ensure the safe condition of the cargo and (very importantly) the transit of people around the hold” explains Philip.

Therefore, after the fumigant gas has been applied and has acted, the attention turns mainly to the dispersion of the chemical agent through forced ventilation. “It is necessary, for reasons of operational safety, that all ventilation pipes (manholes) where the air recirculation system is installed are accessible”.

In some cases, blowers that allow the entry of fresh air and the dissipation of the product are also used. When the concentration level returns to safe levels, the cargo is free of harmful agents and can be safely handled when it reaches the port for unloading.

Why is this technique important?

Fumigation is not only a process determined by regulatory bodies in several countries, but also requires efficient planning and execution to bring commercial advantages — especially for those who export.

For you to understand the fundamental relationship between the good use of fumigation and competitive gains, let’s see some examples of what this concern brings to the routine of the international market.

Compliance with standards and laws of several countries:
Fumigation is a process determined and regulated in the grain commercial legislation in practically all countries of the world, with variations only in parameters and one or other limitation in relation to the fumigants used. It’s a status called “plant health”.

Therefore, to rely on the procedure is to ensure the quick clearance and transportation of bulk goods to the port of destination and the entry of these products with the support of commercial agreements and better negotiating conditions.

Long-scale pest control

Fumigation is not only an important process for trade, but also for public health and environmental control. Many of these agents, such as insects and even microorganisms, can become a threat in the short term.

This is because life forms present in one country can develop and become a threat to the environmental balance in another ecosystem. A controlled species can turn into a pest when introduced into another environment.

This is vital to maintaining the health of people, animals and plants around the world, preventing the uncontrolled migration of harmful agents.

Reduction waste

One of the major feeding problems around the world is the levels of cargo waste during transport from the producer to the consumer’s table.

Combating pests reduces this loss considerably, preventing the proliferation of these organisms from causing reduction in the quality for human consumption. The more efficient and safer this type of procedure is, the better the global distribution of food.

Minimization of logistical losses

Whether due to the loss of cargo or time, inefficient fumigation can result in damage to the exporting company. An example of this is the weight loss in the hold because the sum of thousands of organisms makes a noticeable difference in mass, not to mention the reduction in its commercial value.

And there are, on top of that, logistical expenses. As Philip points out, “some ships fail the inspection of the Ministry of Agriculture at the port of destination, which generates great losses. The ship needs to be fumigated again and wait at the anchorage for several days until the active principle of fumigation allows the holds to be reopened.”

Improving the image quality for the final consumer

All these issues may present themselves as challenges in the international maritime transport of cargo, but poorly performed fumigation goes far beyond that.

A major danger for the producer is to lose market opportunities with a negative image about their grains. The remnants of pests in the cargo, in addition to the misuse of fumigants, can cause colour and flavour changes and even result in infestation of finished and packaged products — which reach the final consumer in this state.

Companies with this type of occurrence encounter more difficulties in negotiations to meet the most demanding markets, which can limit growth opportunities.

It is proof that, like all procedures involving international trade, well-made fumigation means quality, safety and a good image for the business worldwide.

Which aspects should be considered when choosing a fumigator?

To have a successful operation you need to rely on the right partnerships and pay attention to the details. “One of the essential points is to choose fumigators accredited by the Ministry of Agriculture, to ensure the effectiveness of the treatment,” says Marcus Vinícius.

The engineer adds that it is also recommendable to seek those that are recognized by other international standards, such as Grain and Feed Trade Association (GAFTA). After all, in the case of the application of pesticides, especially in bulk carriers, it is of paramount importance to promote the safety of the crew against poisoning and to protect the cargo itself, which, in case of high temperatures, humidity, or poor distribution of the fumigant, may be subject to fires and explosions.

Want to understand more about how this port logistics influences your success? Then check out this article on storage and cargo handling in ports!