Advances in dryer technology could prove bin drying the safer, more economical alternative in many scenarios.
Harvest grain drying has always been a bit of a balancing act. Harvest too early, and you’re left with steep dry-down costs. But leaving corn in the field to dry down on its own can be risky as well, explains Gary Woodruff, grain conditioning technology manager with GSI, at the 2014 National Farm Machinery Show.
"The drier corn gets, or the longer it is left in the field, the more susceptible it is to yield loss," he says. "When corn hits 15% moisture, as it does when harvested late, losses of 10% to 15% or more are common. When corn is harvested below 19% moisture, harvest losses due to dry grain shatter rise above 3%, and this doesn’t include losses from lodging or storm damage."
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Bottom line: Advances in drier technology has made the process more economical and easier, says Mark Leitman, director of business development and marketing with the Propane Education & Research Council (PERC).
"Starting harvest earlier and drying corn with propane will improve yields when seasonable variables are out of farmer’s hands," he says. "Think of drying as a type of insurance. The efficiency of today’s dryers allows farmers to harvest without consuming excess fuel."
Propane shortages in January drove up prices and have caused major concern across the industry. But Woodruff is optimistic the spike in propane prices is not sustainable into the 2014 harvest season.
"The cost of propane is a big issue right now, but it’s a short-term issue," he says. "We are dealing with transportation problems, not a shortage."
Woodruff says the economics of today compared to 30 years ago are significant. With $4 corn at an average 160 bu. per acre, with steady LP gas prices, the cost of drying is about 4% the total cost of production. Most farmers he talked with this past year were all harvesting above 20% moisture.
"Most farmers we talked to didn’t harvest their entire crop at 30% moisture, but they started harvest at that level and were trying to be done by 20%," he says.