2. Clean the grain and grain storage. Grain sanitation during harvest is the first line of defense against quality problems down the supply chain. Pests do not traditionally invade when crops first arrive in storage. They tend to enter bin openings or have been present in bins before arrival. Thus, sweeping a bin out before new grain is dumped into it is a simple way to manage against insects in the grain.
Another simple thing to do is get the grain tested to understand what good and bad variables are in the grain. The fact is, diseases like aflatoxin in corn or vomitoxin in cereals can cause serious problems for animals who are consuming the grain, and diseases can transfer up through the food value chain towards the consumer.
As all grain companies are now testing for these diseases, farmers need to be more proactive about knowing their grain’s quality. This empowers a farmer to clean and/or separate good grain from bad grain, and ensures a higher quality food chain.
3. Focus on the drying process. Drying grain immediately after it is harvested is also critical as high moisture can create major quality problems. Spoilage and loss due to mold can begin to reduce the quality of grains in less than 24 hours. Farmers are better equipped to dry grains today than they have been at almost any time in the last several decades. Still, drying grain is a time consuming task, and proper drying techniques must be taken into account: utilizing appropriate heat, having correct levels of static air pressure in the drying chamber, cooling grains at a slow rate, and handling wet grains as little and as gently as possible.
Drying grain slowly prevents stress cracks in kernels, a problem that can compound. In fact, buyers from South Korea and Japan have recently raised concerns about dust once they reach the destination abroad, a direct result of cracked kernels in storage. Many farms have invested in chain conveyors or rubber belt conveyors in lieu of the traditional screw-type auger for moving grains. Despite the higher cost of such equipment over augers, the damage done to kernels is far less, and farmers may be rewarded for improved grain quality.
4. Monitor the grain in storage. As farm storage bins have grown in size, the task of monitoring the grain in the bin has become more difficult. Four decades ago, large farm bins were 10,000 bushels in size; today they exceed 100,000 in some cases. The expanding height and diameter of grain storage bins make detecting “hot spots” even more difficult than in the smaller bins of years past. Today, farmers often choose to invest thousands of dollars towards in-bin monitoring systems. These systems are sophisticated such that they detect changes in stored grain’s temperature, humidity and moisture content, and the amount of carbon dioxide in grain bins. Farmers who detect spoilage quickly are often able to “rescue” a grain bin and prevent significant economic loss.
Getting the Best Price for Your Grain
The four processes listed above are critical steps for preservation and delivery of quality. But there is an additional step to the process that can ensure success and improve a farmer’s reputation for quality. For farmers to compete on quality, they need to know what separates their grain from local competitors.
Farmers can take two important steps to ensure that they find buyers who are willing to pay more for their grain.
First, farmers should always have specifications on hand to ensure that they can begin the marketing process with all the information needed to attract buyers. Tight markets like the ones witnessed in the Summer of 2017 in the Dakotas had a shortage of high-quality wheat. With that in mind, many buyers scrambled to find higher protein levels to meet their quotas. Buyers are willing to pay more money for grain with distinct specifications like protein content, falling number and hard vitreous and non-vitreous kernels, and moisture levels.