As harvest activity increases around the Corn Belt, shower activity has also increased and now temperatures are falling as the hot dry summer left many headache yields. But unless care is taken with harvest and storage, the quality of stored grain can quickly become a headache, as well. Variable moisture and cooler air temperatures are a combination that can quickly cause spoilage.
A comment that is so true you have to smile comes from Iowa State University’s grain quality guru Charles Hurburgh, who refers to weather and crop development when he says, “The net result is that average exists as a mathematical term but probably not on anyone’s farm.” Hurburgh says the combination crop development and changing weather need your attention and focused management to maintain the quality of stored grain. His latest report says the extreme heat in July resulted in early denting of corn kernels, fewer kernels per ear, lighter weights and the potential for lower test weights. While fluffy corn is a candidate for mycotoxins, Hurburgh says when nights began to cool off, the chance for field mold and toxin development lessened. And he says the next 10 days will improve corn drydown and lower moistures at harvest. But he says you should be concerned about several issues:
- If you have fields with stalk rot and the increased potential for lodging, Hurburgh says harvest those first regardless of moisture, and plan to properly dry the corn. He says spending some money to dry corn is a better choice than risking field loss at current corn prices. He says, “At $2/gal. for propane, the drying cost in an average dryer (2000 Btus/lb. water) for one point of moisture is equal to about 0.25% field loss with $7 corn. 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.”
- If you have disease in your corn, such as Goss’ Wilt, that caused a pre-mature death of the plant, it may have compromised grain quality. But Hurburgh says that is still an unknown and he’s is doing research on that. While a premature death causes lighter weight kernels, test weights will be hurt, but the jury is still out on other quality issues.
- Measure your test weight and use that to determine what happens to the corn. If your test weight is below 52 lb./bu. it is a high storage risk. Hurburgh says take it to the elevator as soon as practical. If the moisture tester at the elevator has been calibrated to USDA standards, it should provide an accurate test weight, he says. But just like yield, expect test weights to vary widely. He also says the corn with the low yield will probably have higher protein and be good for feed, but have less starch and be poor for ethanol.
- Hurburgh says if you are harvesting either corn or soybeans on warm afternoons, your priority should be to cool the grain, and it may take several aeration cycles with the help of dry air, which will pull moisture out of the grain. Take precaution to not overdry it, because of the rapid reduction in value of the grain.
- Late-season rains will cause some soybean fields to have both low- and high-moisture grain, which become a headache for combining, and could be a headache for storage if not addressed properly. Hurburgh says treat those soybeans as if all were wet, which means aerate them to cool them and dry them, before transfer to storage.
- Hurburgh says mixed-moisture grain will cause moisture meters to read 1-2 points below what they should read, “This is a storage issue, and also an inventory management issue. One percent moisture in $14 beans is about 16 cents per bushel. There is a much greater premium for accuracy in all grain testing and inventory monitoring.”
- As frost begins to threaten some soybean fields that are still in a growth stage, the result is lack of maturity, and soybean oil that will pick up the green color from the chlorophyll from the immature beans. Processors do not like that and dockage may result. If you have to harvest green soybeans, Hurburgh says to put them into storage until the color subsides, then deliver them. Dockage can be arbitrated through a federally licensed grain inspection station.
Harvest and storage of the 2011 crop may become as challenging as it was to get the crop planted and underway for the growing season. Varying qualities of grain will have to be addressed in different ways with aeration and ensure quality is maintained. Changing temperatures will also require special treatment to ensure quality is stable prior to storage.