Farmers will likely face grain storage issues again this fall. Last year, harvest was wetter than normal, and producers struggled with propane distribution. The high-moisture crop is still being held in storage in hopes of grain markets recovering.
This year, planting conditions were more favorable, the 2020 growing season is off to a good start and results look promising for harvest. Good-to-excellent yields are anticipated, but farmers will need a place to put those bushels.
Charles Hurburgh, director of the Iowa Grain Quality Initiative at Iowa State University, notes that farmers have recently been moving their 2019 crop to market. “Producers are moving it, but that’s not necessarily using it,” he says. “It just transfers the storage risk to the commercial system rather than to the farmer.” This grain needs to be used as quickly as possible.
Getting rid of old grain
Low prices gave farmers incentive to store their grain until markets improved, but grain spoilage is increasing with warmer summer temperatures. Producers are seeing problems like blue eye mold develop, which creates a dark line of deterioration down the center of the kernel.
The struggle to market a damaged crop comes from decreased consumption in key uses such as ethanol and animal feed. “There hasn’t been a breakout in prices,” Hurburgh says. “Ethanol and feed demand are not strong. Exports are the bright spot but require a long shipment time. That is not a transit you want to face with corn that has been going out of condition.”
Moving grain to market now might not be ideal, but it will create space for this year’s harvest. Trying to keep last year’s grain and mix it with this year’s will end up doing more harm than good in storage. Blending a low-quality crop with a high-quality crop only works if the mix is used quickly.
Making room for new crop
Even though it’s still early in the growing season, the 2020 harvest is predicted to be more suitable for long-term storage. “Right now, we’ve at least set ourselves up for a dry and mature fall in crop quality terms,” Hurburgh says. “We could be mature in September because of the early planting, a forecast of continuing warm weather and ample rainfall.”
With high yields expected, producers will need more space. This will create pressure to find alternative storage options other than grain bins. Piling grain outside is an option but it comes with many issues, especially if piles are makeshift and small.
“Small piles are harder to manage than big ones because of the surface area-to-volume relationship,” Hurburgh says. “Rain will wet up more grain as a percentage if it’s a small pile versus a large one. Also, farmers don’t have the amount of management necessary for paying attention to the pile, finding hotspots, aerating hotspots and finding leaks in the tarp.” These chores are best left to commercial grain handlers.
Outside piles are often confused with the type of temporary storage structures found at many grain elevators. These open facilities covered with tarps work for grain storage because they have solid floors and are most likely equipped with an aeration system. Even making a pile inside of an existing building, like a machine shed, promises better protection from adverse weather conditions than outside piles, he adds.
Evaluate storage options
In recent years some farmers have turned to putting corn in big plastic bags for additional storage space in the fall. Understanding what happens before putting grain in bags is critical for this alternate form of storage. It’s harder to keep corn from spoiling in a bag compared to storing in a bin. Bags can’t be aerated. Thus, corn going into a storage bag needs to be dry.
Hurburgh recommends drying it to a 1% to 2% lower moisture content compared to storing corn in a bin, and never put higher than 15% moisture corn in a storage bag. Also, corn needs to go into the bag at a cool temperature (less than 50 degrees F) to reduce risk of corn spoiling. That becomes challenging when outside temperatures are in the 80s and 90s. Also, you need special equipment for loading and unloading the big bags.
Another option is to build more grain bins. Despite this being the most reliable type of storage, it is unlikely to be a popular solution. “Today’s economic conditions aren’t the best for investing in grain bins because cash flows are fairly tenuous in many cases,” Hurburgh says. “It’s not a great time to spend money. I don’t look for an explosion in grain bin construction.”
Less storage stress expected
Grain from the 2020 harvest is expected to be stored for a long time, similar to the 2019 crop. If growing conditions continue as they are, though, this year’s grain should be more suitable for such circumstances. Hopefully, drier grain will be coming out of the field this fall and will have a higher test weight. Thus, farmers will have an easier time accommodating it.
“If we have to carry corn in storage, that’s fine, but let’s carry this fall’s corn and rotate the stock,” Hurburgh says. “We really could use a high-quality, high-test-weight crop to substitute for the older crop that’s now in storage and needs to be moved to market.”
It’s important for both farmers and elevators to prepare for a shortcoming of storage space. Hurburgh says there will likely be harvest programming help available in the fall with a combination of efforts from ISU and the Iowa Department of Agriculture.
For information on stored grain management, visit the Iowa Grain Quality Initiative.
Friedrichsen is a Wallaces Farmer intern.