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Storage expert: Farmers should avoid mixing new with old crops


AMES, Iowa — Farmers gearing up for fall harvest should avoid mixing their new crop with old crop since the results could be costly, according to a nationally recognized grain storage expert.

“I know we have a lot of bushels left this year because there’s so much carryover,” said Charles Hurburgh, Iowa State University professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering.

With more corn – and possibly more soybeans than usual – left in bins from last year’s record harvest and low commodity prices, he said many farmers held out hope for a late-summer price rally that never happened.

According to the latest USDA World Agricultural Supply and Demand Estimates (WASDE) report, ending stocks for corn and soybeans for the 2016/17 marketing year are estimated at 2.35 billion and 345 million bushels, respectively.

In addition, the Sept. 1 USDA quarterly Grain Stocks report said total U.S. old-crop stocks have bloated to a 30-year record high, with corn totaling 2.29 billion bushels, up 32 percent from last September.

Of the stocks, 787 million bushels are stored on farms, up 25 percent from a year earlier. Old-crop soybeans stored totaled 301 million bushels, up 53 percent from last September, with on-farm soybean storage totaling 87.9 million bushels, up 112 percent from a year ago.

Greg Brenneman, ISU agricultural engineering specialist, specializing in grain storage, handling and biomass harvesting, said last year’s crop hasn’t necessarily been a huge problem. “We have had high carryover years back when we had less storage,” he noted. “However, I don’t have a good feel for how much corn and soybeans are still in on-farm storage.”

Whether farmers are selling or consolidating bins, Hurburgh said now is the time to move the old crop to keep it separate from bushels in the field. “I always tell folks not to mix crop years,” he explained. “The risk is too great.”

He said new harvested crops aren’t stable from a moisture distribution perspective – and putting new grain on top of year-old corn or soybeans with a full complement of mold spores increases the chances of spoilage.

“That’s not a good thing,” he pointed out. “It can put a crusting layer in the bin so it’s less permeable to airflow. That ripples into incomplete aeration.” He added the shelf life of the 2016 crop is likely at its end since dew points last November made it difficult to cool grain quickly.

Hurburgh said the opportunity to store this year’s crop a year or more is good since warm days and cool nights allow grain to dry more in the field, contribute to uniform test weights and reduce the chance of field mold, fungus and aflatoxin issues.

However, he said farmers have several options to avoid mixing old- and new-crop grain. Besides selling grain, producers can combine old-crop corn from multiple bins to start fresh in as many storage facilities as possible.

Moreover, Hurburgh said farmers may also want to consider using old-crop corn to satisfy new-crop delivery contracts during harvest to free up space. “I’m a big believer in risk management. Turn loose physical grain to let the elevator handle it.”

Another option is moving last year’s old crop into storage bags if the grain is stable, he said, but only as a last resort and for a short time.

“It isn’t a bargain storing the 2016 crop anymore,” he said.

Brenneman said one option is moving the grain to an elevator for later pricing or putting into storage; however, he said, “I would hesitate to put it into bags at this time with old crop and warm conditions.”

He said whether farmers sell old stocks at lower prices to free up space for this year’s new crop “depends a lot on how much they still have and what they think the size of the new crop will be.

“Whether it is new crop that has just been taken out under very warm conditions (this last week or so – Sept. 24-30),” he said, “or, if it is old crop that has warmed up this summer, I would take advantage of the cooler nights we are having now, or as soon as we have some again to run fans to get some of the very warm grain started cooling down.

“For every 10-degree Fahrenheit drop in grain temperature, we roughly double the allowable storage time.”

But if farmers are considering commingling grain, Steve Johnson, ISU farm management specialist based in central Iowa, recommended they contact their crop insurance agent before combines roll. Otherwise, producers risk harvest delays and put possible future claims in jeopardy.

“A crop insurance adjuster should measure grain bins for crop insurance purposes containing old-crop bushels stored on-farm beyond the 2017 harvest,” he said. “Procrastination to request a bin measurement could delay the adjuster and harvest.”

Pat Swanson, an Iowa Soybean Assoc. board member, Ottumwa farmer and crop insurance agent, said remaining bushels need to be verified and documented. She said if old- and new-crop grain is mixed without taking this first crucial step, insurance claims may not get paid.

“Otherwise, there’s no way to verify bushels,” she said. “When new claims are submitted, the entire contents of a bin is used,” adding a rejected crop insurance claim or bushels unaccounted for could mean thousands of dollars in lost revenue.

In fact, Swanson has been sending out reminders to her clients to get bins measured, with 12 customers requesting the service so far.

For crop insurance purposes, she said anytime a farmer has a claim of $200,000 or more per crop per county, an audit is required to verify the previous three years of production.

“I think there are a lot of farmers sitting on old-crop corn because of pricing,” she said. “I know we are. We have an adjuster coming to measure our bins.”