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2009 soybean challenges pile up as late harvest runs later

Agriculture.com Staff 10/21/2009 @ 3:03pm

Some farmers have had record-breaking soybean yields this year. Still, others are fighting one of the toughest harvest seasons they've ever faced. The combination of high moisture levels, low temperatures and slow crop development mean even if you yield big, you may have to pay a little extra to get the grain put away this fall, whether on your farm or at the grain elevator.

So, what are some of the soybean issues this year's weather has created? The big one is the crop's maturity: Rain-delayed planting and cool summer temperatures kept beans in a lot of areas behind schedule, development-wise. Then, when frost hit earlier this fall, some beans were left without reaching full maturity.

"The major impact will be the creation of high-moisture green soybeans. Frost damaged soybeans also have lower oil and less extractable oil than the average for the area. Greenness is a processing problem; greater refining losses are incurred in removing the green color," says Iowa State University (ISU) Extension agronomist Palle Pedersen. "Greenness will subside somewhat after several weeks of aeration, which is also necessary to reduce the moisture."

But, it's not just a problem once the green beans are through to the processor. It may require you to keep a closer eye on your combine reel as you're rolling through the field. "Green soybeans will be harder to separate in combines; expect more pods and foreign matter (FM) as well. Moisture meters read low on mixtures of mature and immature beans," Pedersen adds.

When it's all said and done, whether your soybeans are harvested while still a little on the immature side, or they've been nipped by frost before you can get into the field, this will likely lead to a lower-quality feed product.

"Soybean protein contents are low (31% to 34%) and oil contents above average (19% or greater)," says Iowa State University Extension agronomist Palle Pederson. "This will produce high-protein meals in the 45% to 47% protein range, although normally the essential amino acids (lysine, methionine and cysteine) do not fall off as rapidly as protein, leading to potentially good nutritional value for swine and poultry."

As you get the grain out of the field, quality concerns in questionable fields should start before you've turned a wheel. To ensure the grain will be put away in the best possible condition, make sure you're not cracking or splittting soybeans, as that can encourage spoilage or mold development, says ISU Extension ag and biosystems engineer Charles Hurburgh. This can strip grain of its storage life.

"Every action taken after harvest affects the ultimate length of time grain can be stored and the quality at the time of use," he says. "The goal of grain storage management is to reduce the rate at which the life is lost. Always get grain cool quickly and minimize variations."

If you're like a lot of farmers this fall, those beans will be entering the hopper at higher moisture levels. Planning ahead can help eliminate other quality problems that can lead to dockage once the grain's delivered to town.

"The last half of the soybean harvest is likely to be wet, with many reports of 18% to 20% soybeans. Soybeans dry more easily than corn so air alone, or heat no more than 120 degrees Fahrenheit will be adequate. Monitor drying frequently to prevent overdrying," Hurburgh says. "Be selective about what beans are placed in storage versus moved at harvest. Deliberately decide which bins are going to be kept into the summer. Remove the center core and use a grain distributor if possible. Check your grain at least every two weeks, with some way to take grain temperatures. If a slow rise is noted, aerate. If a hot spot starts, move the grain out. It is very difficult to control soybean spoilage once it has started. Oil rancidity becomes a major problem."

So, what's all this worth? When it comes to moisture, shrink becomes a big factor whether you or the elevator is doing the drying. Hurburgh says shrink typically amounts to 1.15% shrink per point of drying that has to be done.

"For example, a shrink factor of 1.4% per point gives about 0.22% per point for handling loss. Typically a commercial elevator experiences about 1% overall handling loss and a good farm system about 0.5% overall handling loss. This does not include weight loss from spoilage if grain goes out of condition," he says. "Accurate moisture tests are also needed to make shrink calculations work well. Check farm meters on 10-15 samples against the state inspected meter at the local elevator, or the readings from an Official USDA grain inspector."

Shrink costs will likely be higher than normal this year because of the large amount of wetter grain being stored. That, combined with the general difficulty of switching elevator infrastructure to dry beans versus corn, makes storing and drying beans on the farm a generally good choice this year.

"Consider the costs of drying, aeration and storage separately from weight shrink. Recently, shrink factors and price discounts for soybean moisture have increased because of the difficulty created by large amounts of wet soybeans. Producers and elevators alike normally allocate their drying and bins with the best aeration to corn," Hurburgh says. "Large changes in operational strategy are needed to handle wet soybeans. Drying wet soybeans on-farm is likely to be profitable however, when compared to current 2% to 3% shrink/discounts per point."

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Some farmers have had record-breaking soybean yields this year. Still, others are fighting one of the toughest harvest seasons they've ever faced. The combination of high moisture levels, low temperatures and slow crop development mean even if you yield big, you may have to pay a little extra to get the grain put away this fall, whether on your farm or at the grain elevator.

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