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Keep the air on stored grain this fall

Jeff Caldwell 09/16/2011 @ 2:45pm Multimedia Editor for Agriculture.com and Successful Farming magazine.

A dry spring, a hot, dry summer and a fall that's already seen temperatures slip below the freezing mark in parts of the Corn Belt. It's certainly been far from an average year. So, what's it all mean for your grain storage plans this fall?

For corn, it looks like the next 2-3 weeks could be an awfully good time to let your crop dry down in the field, says Iowa State University ag engineer Charles Hurburgh. But, only if you know your stalks can hang on until the combine rolls. And, there is reason to believe that it may be tough for the crop to stand until then, Hurburgh says.

"If you determine that particular fields have stalk rot, which is prevalent this year, harvest those fields early and dry the corn. At current corn prices, drying is preferable to grain loss. At $2 per gallon for propane, the drying cost in an average dryer for one point of moisture is equal to about 0.25 percent field loss, with $7 corn," he says. "Dryers vary and propane costs change but in general, very little field loss can be accepted before early harvest and drying is a better choice."

Of the corn that's been harvested so far this fall, yields have been all across the board. But, a lot of expectations are lower for this year's crop, and if part of your yield drawbacks involve lower test weight, take that into account when storing your grain, Hurburgh advises.

"In general, corn below 52 lb/bu (dry) will be a high storage risk; market it first. There will be variations by hybrid and area; know the test weight of each one to make good decisions. The test weight readings from elevator moisture meters are adequate to make these decisions assuming the elevator has periodically checked against a USDA grader to adjust the machine," Hurburgh says. "There will be large variations in test weight this year. Feed value is likely to be good. Lower yields and fewer nitrogen-removing heavy rains favor increased corn protein, which is good for livestock feed, but which reduces ethanol yield per bushel."

And, looking at the forecast for the rest of September, the weather looks to be turning dry and warmer for much of the Corn Belt. If your grain is warm but fairly dry when you bin your corn, let this guide your plans once you get the grain in the bin.

"The most important initial action in grain storage is to cool the grain. You may have to add one to two more aeration cycles this year," Hurburgh says. "Dry air (low dew points) will cool grain by evaporative cooling. The high value of grain puts a premium on cooling but not over drying."

Soybean drying plans

Though August -- the month agronomists agree is most important to soybean crop development -- was hot and fairly dry this year, rainfall later in the month and early in September helped out the crop. But, that rain could complicate soybean storage decisions this fall.

"Many soybean fields benefited from late- season rains. The result will be mixed maturity in the same field – dry and wet beans together. This will be a challenge for combine setting, but from a storage perspective, mixtures will respond in storage like the wetter fraction," Hurburgh says. "Therefore, the common practice of putting beans in unaerated bins will not work well; aerate them to cool and equalize moisture, then transfer to other bins if needed."

The way the crop is shaping up so far, a lot of soybeans could potentially be put in storage this fall while they're still green. If that's the case on your farm, make sure to keep them aerated once they're in the bin.

"The best plan is put these beans in an aerated storage and wait 2 to 4 weeks before delivering them. If there are green soybeans, buyers will need to refresh themselves on the 'line' (intensity) of greenness required to be classed as Damage in the Grades," Hurgburgh adds. "Always use an Official federally-licensed grain inspection agency to determine this line, and as a referee in borderline cases."

   

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