If it's another bin-buster crop this year, it will be difficult to move — and even tougher to store in many communities.

Bins are full. Elevators are full. With much grain left from last year, limited storage space coupled with low prices may prompt many growers to store and hold for a better market. But store where?

“Certainly, facilities designed specifically for grain storage are the best choice,” says Bill Casady, University of Missouri (UMC) agricultural engineer, who maintains a “storage locator” database where producers can list storage needs or storage available. “It's best to utilize existing steel bins, especially for long-term storage. But temporary storage structures may be the only alternative for some growers. If so, keep in mind that temporary storage is just that — temporary.

“A temporary storage structure should be the last filled and the first emptied,” Casady adds. “Keep in mind that most temporary storage is not adequate to dry grain or provide uniform aeration. Use temporary storage only for high quality, cool, dry grain.”

Most farm buildings — even pole barns — can be used for temporary grain storage, says Kenneth Hellevang, extension ag engineer at North Dakota State University. However, not many are designed for that purpose. You'll need to reinforce existing walls or build bulkheads to hold the grain.

“Shelled corn piled to a depth of 1' exerts 11.5 pounds per foot of wall,” says Casady. “But corn piled to 8' deep can create a force of 736 pounds per linear foot of wall. That's 64 times as much pressure. Storage capacity increases quickly as you increase the height of the grain, but it can create enormous lateral pressure.”

While structural considerations need to be given in those situations, nearly anything beats simply piling grain in open outdoor piles. Manitoba agricultural engineers studied losses of small grains stored in different temporary methods. Spoilage losses in uncovered outdoor piles ran to 50%. When grain was piled on a plastic vapor barrier and covered with plastic sheets with moisture vents on top, losses ran about 4%.

Some grain terminals have used unique options to battle the storage bulge. Last year, corn growers around Monroe City, MO, stored about 220,000 bu in temporary storage built by the Monroe City Farmers Elevator and Exchange Co.

“We used an idle parking lot and built low sidewalls out of pre-fab concrete blocks,” says Fred Luedtke, general manager of the elevator. “The blocks weigh about a ton each and are designed to interlock — they're used most often for retaining walls and breakwaters along the river.”

Luedtke and his crew first put down lengths of perforated PVC pipe, then augered in the corn. Fans were set up to pull air through the grain and out these floor tubes. Aeration inlet pipes were placed on top of the grain and the entire pile covered with tarpaulin.

“We kept fans running continuously to pull air across the top of the grain,” he explains. “The corn was dry when it went into the temporary storage at harvest, and we had it moved out before April 1. It stayed in good condition.”

Luedtke doesn't know yet if the 2001 crop will be big enough to again require some temporary storage. “If it is, we still have the concrete blocks,” he says.

Grain Storage Goes Condo

In western Illinois, several corn and bean producers and their local cooperative came up with a novel “condominium” storage idea.

“Most of the growers have some storage on their farms,” says Gerald Jenkins, manager of the Ursa (IL) Farmers Cooperative (UFC). “But they wanted more storage and wanted to know the cost of the storage up front. So, we built 1.1 million bushels of condo storage, where producers buy pre-paid storage rights.”

The condominium bin complex was built adjacent to UFC's Mississippi River elevator at Meyer, IL. UFC and each grower participating sign 30-year agreements, whereby the growers buy storage rights at $1.30/bu for the amount of storage capacity wanted.

“We have a 10,000-bu minimum, and additional storage can be purchased in 2,500-bu increments,” says Jenkins. “There's also an annual maintenance fee to cover taxes, insurance and state licensing, prorated at each participant's share of the total.”

With some restrictions, condo owners can transfer or sell their storage rights to other parties. However, UFC holds the right of first refusal.

“After five years, UFC will buy back the storage, on a prorated basis,” says Jenkins. “Over the term of the contract, the cost comes to 4.3¢/bu/year.

“For producers, there's a lot of flexibility with this system,” he adds. “The grain is federally insured, and a grower generally can buy condo storage at less cost than he could build bins.”