Sell Grain at Harvest; Store Only if Necessary

September 4, 2012 02:29 AM
Sell Grain at Harvest; Store Only if Necessary

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 General agricultural drought information can be found on the Purdue Extension drought website at


Back to news



Spell Check

9/4/2012 04:07 AM

  You want to send me some of what you are smoking! It is clear that hiding out in the hallowed halls of higher education has cut you off from the REAL world. We are headed into a series of drouth years just like the 50's, perhaps you had better catch up on your reading and stop trying to stampede the Muppets. You see when you hand out advice from a place where you assume none of the risk, it is easy to point farmers in the wrong direction and suffer no consequences. You see you have found your spot, just like cattle in a feedlot, and the government is your caretaker and provider from cradle to the grave. You serve at our expense on the public dole, I do not believe you have paid the price to even voice a decision where you have nothing at risk. John Foust J.D. CPA Farmer

9/4/2012 11:17 AM

  Yeah boy, drying down this crop will be a REAL problem all right!!!!

9/4/2012 12:15 PM

  Come on Faust sooner or later they will be right. Most have been wrong for 6 years. The law of averages is going to say they will be right eventually. Brazil is going wall to wall beans, just one little problem ...1/2 of there top soy region is drier than that popcorn f**t you get after all that beer and corn you eat. they are all ready 45% sold of a bumper crop they haven't planted yet. It didn't work out too well last year for them. The other thing is what do prices ALL ways do when the traders have at least 75% control of the product? That' s right "moon shot". Go ahead "make my day" sell out. The prices are good ...till you go to the parts counter or price new.


Corn College TV Education Series


Get nearly 8 hours of educational video with Farm Journal's top agronomists. Produced in the field and neatly organized by topic, from spring prep to post-harvest. Order now!


Market Data provided by
Brought to you by Beyer