Wintertime grain storage concerns

Farm Forum

A combination of uncharacteristic fall weather and low corn prices could keep more grain on farms during the winter.

That means farmers have to watch how they store their grain, waiting for prices to rise, ag experts said.

When farmers were harvesting earlier this autumn, conditions were warm and dry, said Chris Smith, director of grain markets at North Central Farmers Elevator in Ipswich. But because of that warm, dry weather, the ground is like a giant sponge, soaking in all moisture.

“A little cold spell wouldn’t hurt anything right now,” Smith said. “Freeze the ground and help us all out just a bit.”

The warm weather going into November might have bolstered area producers, said John Husk, senior vice president of operations at Wheat Growers in Aberdeen.

“We’ve got grain that was put into a bin — potentially not through a dryer — it was close to being dry enough, so we didn’t have to dry it or put any air on it,” Husk said. “With this warm weather, you’ve got a warm grain that’s either going into a bin or else being put out on the ground.”

But cold weather is essential to keeping grains like corn preserved, said David Karki, South Dakota State University Extension agronomy field specialist out of Watertown.

“Heat and moisture are the two big factors to any kind of mold growth and any other pest,” he said. “Try to keep the temperature below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, good aeration, good flow of air.”

Grain is often harvested at a higher moisture than is optimal for storage, Karki said. It can be harvested with a moisture content of 20 to 22 percent, but is stored best at 14 to 15 percent.

The temperature might be cooler outside of the pile, Karki said, but inside the grain will hold onto the heat.

This year’s crop is clean, Husk said, meaning the quality is good and there weren’t many weeds or other contaminants.

Those with grain bins and bags for storage shouldn’t have much to worry about, Smith said.

“Bins are kinda — not quite unlimited — but a very long storage time,” Smith said. “Bags would be a little bit more limited.”

Dry corn stored properly in bags could make it through to the summer months, Smith said.

“The less moisture, the longer you can store,” Karki said.

As for prices, the healthy yields won’t help drive prices up very quickly, Husk said.

“There’s a huge crop completely across the United States, so we’ve got a lot — a lot of grain that’s been brought in,” Husk said. “Big corn crop, very large (soy)bean crop.”

According to U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates, the average corn yield this year in South Dakota is 147 bushels per acre compared to 159 last year. The soybean yield estimate is 42 bushels per acre — four fewer than last year.

There might be some opportunities for corn producers to sell to ethanol plants, Husk said.

No matter how grain is stored, it’s important to monitor it regularly, Husk said.

“Look at the peaks — especially at the tops of those piles — and make sure you don’t see any discoloration, for sure,” Husk said. “And just make sure it isn’t crusting over. If it does, you want to break that crust up, you want to get some kind of ventilation.”

Wheat Growers offers a monitoring service to check grain in bins, Husk said.

If the weather turns unfavorable for grain storage, farmers may have to change their plans, he said.

“Outside storage won’t be effective for a very long time,” Karki said. “Unless there is some good cover on it, and (farmers) try to get the moisture out of it in a very efficient manner.”

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