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Eyeing IP storage

Larry Koberlein, St. Elmo, IL, has more than 750 acres under identity-preserved (IP) production contracts. Over the last five years, he has added three smaller bins to handle the trait-specific grain: a 10,000-bu. used bin, an 18,000-bu. used bin and one new 10,000-bu. CMC Pressure Cure natural-air-drying bin. He hopes to add another 10,000-bu. bin and a 20,000-bu. bin in the future.

“With IP production you want small bins that match your acreage; otherwise you're wasting storage space,” Koberlein says. “I also have a receiving pit and a concrete pad for unloading. That makes it easy to deliver anytime the buyer wants, and cleanup is easy too.”

On-farm storage “Most IP contracts are buyers' call contracts,” says Paul Erickson, vice president of business development for Ag Star Farm Credit Services in Mankato, MN, which offers a grain storage lease-financing program. “In order to participate, growers must have on-farm storage. They might have to store the crop from harvest until next September.”

“Having a variety of bin sizes to match various IP contracts is beneficial,” says Bill Wilcke, extension engineer at the University of Minnesota. “Growers might look at purchasing more smaller bins rather than fewer larger bins. Plus smaller bins are easier to manage and keep grain in condition.”

Worth the cost? Overall the trend has been for farmers to buy bigger bins because of economies of scale. A 50,000-bu. bin costs about $1/bu. complete. A 25,000-bu. bin costs $1.25/bu. complete, and a 10,000-bu. bin costs $1.50/bu. complete. Building five 10,000-bu. bins will cost $75,000 — 50% more than building one 50,000-bu. bin.

Will future IP contracts make up the difference? What is the cost of not being able to participate?

“Many IP products today are little more than commodities,” says Charles Hurburgh, professor-in-charge of the Iowa Grain Quality Initiative. “The additional value to the end user is not that great. Present premiums are enough to make growers do some limited segregation, but not enough to do much in the way of facility changes. That will change as genetic engineering changes the nature of the grain and increases its value.”

IP outlook “IP production is here to stay, and the share of IP grain in the market will steadily increase,” Hurburgh continues. “I'd expect a 2 to 4% increase every year, maybe more.” He notes that a survey conducted in 2000 by the Iowa Grain Quality Initiative showed that 9.5% of corn and 5.8% of soybean production in Iowa was specialty production.

“There's a good chance IP production is not a passing fad,” Wilcke adds. “You'll want your on-farm storage to give you the greatest flexibility to participate in value-added markets as they emerge.”

Smaller bins Although most farmers have been buying larger bins, grain elevators have recently begun purchasing smaller bins, according to Pat Morrissey, vice president of sales and marketing for Brock Grain and Feed Systems, Kansas City, MO. “In 1999 we sold more 105-ft.-dia. commercial bins than we ever had in the history of our company. Those same buyers are now buying 60- or 72-ft. bins to handle specific grains,” he says. Industry experts expect that the demand for smaller grain storage units will eventually filter down to the farm level.

Friesen of Iowa, Storm Lake, IA, manufactures hopper bins for the seed and feed industries. The company recently redesigned its standard bin, offering sizes from 1,000 to 5,000 bu. to meet the new demand for economical grain storage of smaller lots of IP grain. A 2,000-bu. GrainStor bin costs $4,300, and a 4,000-bu. bin costs $7,850. An aeration system adds another $1,100.

“Clean-out and purity are important issues in IP grain production,” says Russ Frazier, sales manager for Friesen. “Farmers who want to add efficiency to their operation may want to consider smooth-walled hopper bottom bins that have 100% clean-out of the grain. We're seeing initial interest from grain elevators, specialty grain end users like tortilla makers, and growers with food-grade soybean production.”

For more information, contact Friesen of Iowa Inc., Dept. FIN, 2897 Expansion Blvd., Storm Lake, IA 50588, 800/437-2334.

Grain quality Because IP production generally emphasizes quality, the ability to aerate IP grain is a necessity, and some IP grain may require natural-air-drying bins.

Clarkson Grain, Cerro Gordo, IL, buys specialty crops in 20 states and has customers in 15 countries. Company president Lynn Clarkson sees IP production growing and recommends that growers invest in bins with a full air floor and a stirator. Those raising food-grade corn should install low-temperature bin dryers.

“The bin dryer should hold plenum temperatures at 110°F or less. Once temperatures reach 140°F, the damage to corn kernels increases exponentially,” Clarkson says. “We also like to see computerized fan controllers that will sense atmospheric conditions and turn fans on when weather is optimal for reaching the grain's desired moisture content.” He notes that using a computerized system to bring 9% soybeans up to 13% moisture increases the volume and profit for the grower while improving the handling characteristics of the beans.

Sentry-Pac is a computerized controller that turns aeration fans on or off depending on weather conditions. It monitors the temperature and relative humidity and makes a decision every 15 min. whether or not to run the fans. It allows the producer to input a target moisture content and then it will run the fans with two primary objectives: to prevent spoilage and to achieve uniform moisture content.

Some producers are using Sentry-Pac as part of a combination drying process whereby the first few points of moisture are taken off with a high heat dryer and the remaining moisture is removed with aeration fans using ambient conditions. Purdue has conducted tests that demonstrate that this combination method of drying greatly reduces stress cracks in corn.

For more information, contact Sentry Technologies Inc., Dept. FIN, 15710 El Prado Rd., Chino, CA 91710, 800/227-2279.

Handling considerations Because maintaining the quality of IP grain is so important, you'll need to have handling equipment that's gentle on the grain and can be easily cleaned out. You'll want easy clean-out from the bins, receiving pits, legs and conveyance systems. As you look at new products, seek designs that are self-cleaning and that don't have ledges, depressions or pockets for the grain to hang up on.

The most common conveyance system, the screw auger, is the least expensive option, but it is not gentle on the grain or easily cleaned. Running the conveyor as slow as possible and as full as possible will reduce grain damage. Some researchers are investigating whether running the auger in reverse for a few minutes will improve clean-out when a farmer is switching from one crop to another.

En masse or drag conveyors are another option. Some designs are better than others for complete clean-out. Look for conveyors with slope-bottom drag plates rather than a flat bottom and check whether kernels get stuck in the chain.

The premier conveyance system is the belt conveyor. The seed industry uses it because it is gentle and cleans out easily. “A belt conveyor will cost 30 to 50% more than a conventional screw auger, but it will last four times as long,” Clarkson claims. “Belt conveyors are the best option. En masse conveyors are the next best. Screw augers operated at low speeds will work, but the flighting edge has to be square and the auger should fill the tube tightly. Worn screw augers cut grain like a knife.”

Clarkson warns growers to stay away from tall grain legs and from pneumatic conveyors, which he says can cause a lot of grain damage from grain hitting bends and curves in the tubing at high speed. He also doesn't recommend bucket conveyors for on-farm use. An unload system should be at least 8 in. in diameter, Clarkson adds.

Grain handling equipment can be more expensive than the storage itself, so take time investigating your options.

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