As high-yielding, wet corn brought home in 2009, dump and drying capacity is the weak link in the harvest logistics chain for many producers and elevators. When the drying and handling system can't keep up, lines form and combines sit idle.
"It's key to have a dryer that can handle a day's worth of harvest overnight,” says Rock Katschnig, who farms near Prophetstown, Ill. This year, his grain system was able to meet the challenge thanks to upgrades he had put in place earlier.
As operations grow and yields increase exponentially, even many of today's best-designed farm storage facilities can fall short of needed speed and capacity. "A lot of farms are not using a planning horizon of more than a few years,” says Steve Johnson, Iowa State University economist. "They need to ask themselves, ‘What's my vision for my farm in five, 10 and 20 years?'”
Growing Need. In Iowa alone, since 2000, harvested corn acres increased 11% and yields, 29%. Total corn production rose 41%. Yet off-farm storage capacity rose 29% and on-farm increased by only 18%.
Yields are expected to continue to increase, especially for corn, because corn prices should be supported by ethanol mandates and comparatively low interest rates allow carrying corn in storage.
Farmers will continue to choose longer-season corn to increase yield, raising the drying and quality issues related to higher moisture, says Charles Hurburgh, Iowa State University professor in charge of the Iowa Grain Quality Initiative. "Farmers will dry more; gas is cheap compared with yield.”
"We need more storage, whether it is community-based or on-farm,” agrees Roger Fray, executive vice president of grain for West Central Co-op, serving 11 counties in Iowa.
Grain storage is a 20- or 30-year investment, Fray says. Given the yield trend, producers will grow a 14-billion national crop and then a 15-billion crop before today's building is depreciated.
Most grain comes into town in semis, 1,000 bu. at a time. "If elevators aren't putting in 20,000-bu.-per-hour grain legs, they won't be able to keep up with the semis,” Fray says. "The size of the bin is irrelevant if the dump can't keep up.”
- FEBRUARY 2010