Skip storage and head straight to the elevator before prices drop
By Steve Leer, Purdue University
Economic trends and concerns over the condition of grain because of the drought suggest there's little incentive for farmers to store grain this fall. But those who do will need to quickly dry it down to a proper moisture content and watch for contamination, Purdue University specialists say.
As farmers prepare to harvest a poorer-than-expected corn and soybean crop, they have to consider whether to hold onto their grain and hope for higher prices or sell it right out of the field. In most cases, farmers should skip storage and take their grain directly to the elevator, said Corinne Alexander, agricultural economist.
"From an economics perspective, in short crop years one of the things we tend to see is that prices peak early, either before or during harvest, and then decline through the remainder of the marketing year," Alexander said. "The market is giving a strong signal to farmers to deliver early and at harvest because storage will not be profitable. This is true for both corn and soybeans."
Markets reacted strongly to a pair of Aug. 10 U.S. Department of Agriculture reports. One report estimated a 2012 national corn crop of just 10.8 billion bushels and a soybean crop of only 2.69 billion bushels, down 13% and 12% respectively, from 2011. Another report projected lower world grain supplies for the 2012 marketing year.
That news, along with a continued decline in crop condition as a summer-long drought dragged on, sent prices for corn and soybeans soaring. In recent weeks corn has eclipsed $8 a bushel while soybeans have shot past $16 a bushel.
Farmers considering waiting out the market for even higher prices could be leaving money on the table if they put their grain in a bin, Alexander said. Prices are likely to come down in the first quarter of 2013 as South American farmers harvest their corn and soybeans and provide some relief for stressed world stocks.
There are only two reasons farmers should store grain in a short crop year, Alexander said.
"Those would include livestock producers who are supplying their own feed or producers who have contracts with either food or ethanol processors where the contract specifies a later delivery date," she said.
Storing grain could present a host of challenges this fall, including drydown methods, mold, leftover fine material in bins and insects, said Richard Stroshine, a grain quality specialist.
Grain could be going into bins at higher moisture levels and temperatures because many farmers planted early and could be harvesting later this month or in September when temperatures are hotter than in the typical harvest months of October and November, Stroshine said.
Unless farmers work fast to get grain dried down to appropriate levels, their crop could spoil in the bin. If grain is placed in a bin dry it needs to be cooled using aeration, taking advantage of cooler nighttime temperatures, Stroshine said.
That is especially true of corn.
"Mold will grow at 15% moisture if the corn is fairly warm - say, 80 degrees or so," Stroshine said. "It's very slow, but there still can be mold growth there that could eventually compromise your ability to store the corn."
For early harvested corn, Stroshine recommends a stored moisture content of 14.5%, or 13% if the grain will be stored through next summer. To get corn down to those lower moisture levels rapidly, farmers should use high-temperature cross flow drying.
Farmers who need to dry in the bin can increase the drying rate using a technique called layer drying, Stroshine said. Like the name implies, a farmer will place grain in the bin in layers while continuously drying.
"That first layer will dry faster than normal, and by the time you put your second layer in the bin you will have gotten some field drydown of that grain, which should save some in-bin drying time," he said.
"Another thing to remember is if you don't remove the fine material from the bin before you put grain into it you'll need to core your bin. Fine material tends to concentrate in the center of the bin. To core the bin, open the center well, pull out a load and you should get a lot of those fines out. If your grain is peaked you also should level the top surface, which is very important for good aeration."
Other issues farmers should keep in mind as they harvest and store grain this year include:
- Crop insurance. Crop losses incurred in the field are covered by insurance but post-harvest crop losses are not.
- Grain breakage. "Dry kernels and kernels that have been invaded by fungi in the field will break up more easily, so you'll need to set your combine at the lowest cylinder speed you can to get a decent removal of kernels from the cobs," Stroshine said. "You'll also probably have a lot of foreign material with those kernels - pieces of stalk and cob - that could cause some problems. You might need some kind of cleaning equipment to help you out because I don't think the combine will be able to do it alone."
- Aspergillus ear rot. The hot and dry summer has provided a good environment for the development of this fungus in corn. The fungus produces aflatoxin, a carcinogen that can be harmful or fatal to livestock fed the infected corn. Grain testing can identify infected kernels. Removing fine material and small kernels from the harvested grain can reduce the levels of mycotoxins but not eliminate them altogether.
- Insects. Higher populations of grain-damaging bugs are expected this year with the warmer temperatures and the availability of broken kernels and fine material as food. Insect problems have been reported in grain already in storage.
Additional grain storage tips are available on the Purdue Post Harvest Grain Quality website at http://www.grainquality.org. General agricultural drought information can be found on the Purdue Extension drought website at http://www.purdue.edu/drought.