Evaluating options for grain still in the field
Finding storage for harvested grain in parts of Ohio has become complex due to good corn yields, terminal elevators access to move grain out via rail, and some traditional storage not being available.
It is unknown when the ability to accept grain at some terminals will improve. This situation has put some farmers without storage, or storage that is full, in a difficult position to complete the 2021 harvest. Economic decisions will need to be made soon, and none are ideal.
One option may be to haul grain to alternative markets. The availability of trucking and the cost of that trucking will impact this economic decision. A spreadsheet to estimate cost per bushel of trucking is available from the University of Kentucky here. It is recommended to check with these alternative markets before heading their direction.
What losses to expect if the grain is left in the field?
Several years ago, Peter Thomison conducted a study that evaluated the effects of four plant populations (24,000, 30,000, 36,000, and 42,000 plants/A) and three harvest dates (early-mid Oct., Nov., and Dec.) on the agronomic performance of four hybrids differing in maturity and stalk quality.
The study occurred at three locations in NW, NE, and SW Ohio over three years for a total of eight experiments. This study provides insight into yield losses and changes in grain moisture and stalk quality associated with delaying harvest. Key findings from this research are shown below.
- Yield losses between mid-October to December averaged 13%, with 90% of the losses occurring after mid-November.
- Grain moisture decreased nearly 6% between harvest dates in Oct. and Nov. Delaying harvest after early to mid-Nov. achieved almost no additional grain drying.
- Higher plant populations resulted in increased grain yields when harvest occurred in early to mid-October. Only when the harvest was delayed until mid-November or later did yields decline at plant populations above 30,000/acre.
- When the harvest was delayed, hybrids with lower stalk strength ratings exhibited greater stalk rot, lodging, and yield loss. Early harvest of these hybrids eliminated this effect.
- The greatest increase in stalk rot incidence came between harvest dates in October and November. In contrast, stalk lodging increased most after early-mid November.
- Harvest delays had little or no effect on grain quality characteristics such as oil, protein, starch, and kernel breakage.
In this study, yields averaged across experiments, populations, and hybrids decreased about 13% between the Oct. and Dec. harvest dates. Most of the yield loss, about 11%, occurred after the early-mid Nov. harvest date. In three of the eight experiments, yield losses between Oct. and Dec. harvest dates ranged from 21 to 24%. In the other five experiments, yield losses ranged from 5 to 12%.
Grain moisture content showed a decrease from the Oct. to Nov. harvest dates but little or no change beyond the Nov. harvest dates. Grain moisture decreased 6.3% points between the Oct. and Dec. harvest dates when results are averaged across experiments, hybrid, and plant populations.
Most of the decrease in moisture occurred between the Oct. and Nov. harvest dates (5.8 % points); only a 0.5% point decrease after early-mid Nov. Population effects on grain moisture content were not consistent. Differences in grain moisture were evident among hybrids on the first harvest date in early-mid October but were generally negligible later.
Agronomists at the University of Wisconsin have developed a “Field Loss Calculator” Excel spreadsheet (available here) that allows producers to calculate the costs of harvesting today versus allowing the crop to stand in the field and harvesting later. The spreadsheet accounts for higher drying costs versus grain losses during field drying. In addition, the tool allows the user to account for elevator discounts and grain shrink.
Alternative Options for On-Farm Grain Storage
Identifying places around the farm for temporary new storage may be an option. The storage capacity of a building, silo, pile, or bags can be determined with a calculator provided by the University of Kentucky here.
The most critical factor in alternative storage is keeping grain dry and cool. That means it must be dry and cool going into the storage facility. Aeration is not an option in most alternative storage situations. Some general considerations regardless of the alternative chosen are:
- What is the current grain moisture? Corn should be below 15%, and soybeans should be under 13% moisture before going into alternative storages (Gucker, 2018). Below is a chart that shows how many days grain can be stored at different temperature and moisture conditions.
- Does the storage have options for aeration? When the grain needs to be moved in the spring will be affected by the ability to manage the climate. No aeration means moving the grain before planting.
- How can grain be loaded for transport?
Here are some considerations for the most likely alternatives.
Flat storage in a farm building. Grain pushing against walls of buildings not designed for grain storage will create damage, according to NDSU agricultural engineer and grain storage expert Ken Hellevang. Walls must be properly anchored. Pole barns will likely need a grain wall built.
The best course of action to prevent damage is to hire a structural engineer to ensure proper support is in place. If you have previously used a barn for storage, he recommends looking over the building for signs of misalignment. These could signal damage and indicate areas where the structure may fail if loaded again with the grain.
Grain piles pose a lot of potential for loss, especially in our wet climate. The ability to use a cover will reduce loss, which can be up to 2ft deep into the pile with a couple of 1″ rain events. This loss can easily result in $30,000-$40,000 worth of grain with today’s current prices. The convenience of loading and unloading grain bags in the field and the low cost (6-7 cents/bu) has made this an appealing option for some farms.
Grain bags are an alternative storage method that may be more economical than constructing permanent bins. Equipment required includes a bagger and an unloader. Renting this equipment may be an option.
More detailed information on flat storage and piles can be found in Temporary Grain Storage Considerations from Purdue here.
Polybags are a sound option and are frequently used for the storage of agricultural products.
These bags are thicker than a standard silage bag with a minimum thickness of 9 mils, with 9.3 mils being even better. Again, because drying and aeration are not an option once in the bags, grain should be cool and dry going in. To store in bags, Hellevang (2018) recommends the following:
- Select an elevated, well-drained site for the storage bags. Run the bags north and south so solar heating is similar on both sides. Sunshine on just one side heats that side, which can lead to moisture accumulation in the grain and spoilage on the cool side.
- Monitor the bags for damage [at least weekly]. Wildlife can puncture the bags, allowing moisture in, which can lead to spoilage and the grain smell being released, which attracts more wildlife.
- Monitor the grain temperature at several places in the bags.
- Never enter a grain bag because it is a suffocation hazard. If unloading the bag with a pneumatic grain conveyor, the suction can “shrink wrap” a person.
When using alternative storage, you should notify your insurance company to ensure this storage is included on your policy against losses from environmental and wildlife damage. It would be best if you also planned to move grain out of these storage situations before the weather warms in the spring to prevent condensation and moisture buildup. Finally, continually check moisture and pest infestations.
Alternative storage options are a great way to improve harvest efficiency and capture potentially higher prices after harvest. Thoroughly investigate each storage option before using it to ensure it fits into your operation, offer an economic advantage above selling it directly out of the field and preserve the grain quality for the intended storage time.