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Expert: Move poor-quality grain out

By Staff | Mar 19, 2010

When Kris Kohl told a handful of Iowa grain producers on March 4 that they need to be watching grain bins where heavy snows had gotten in them through vents, he was told it may already be too late for that warning.

Kohl, an Iowa State University Extension ag engineer, was speaking at the annual crop clinic in Cherokee. He was talking about reports of snow as deep as two feet where snow drifted into the bins through vents.

In a year when much of northwest, northern and central Iowa’s corn crop was wet when it went into storage, Kohl had told his audience that as the weather warmed, that snow would soon begin to melt, increasing the possibility of corn sprouting in the bins.

But one unidentified producer said that on March 3, that melting was already happening and that his corn had a two-foot layer of spouting corn, massed with interlocking roots.

The challenging 2009 growing season continues to have its effects on growers as 2010’s growing season looms just weeks away.

Reports from across the northern tier of Iowa say there is a large amount of corn that was stored too wet due to not having enough time to dry it.

Many of those bins, Kohl said, have been hard for producers to check on throughout the storage season due to snowdrifts around the bins, caused by record snowfall amounts over much of northern Iowa this winter.

He said one producer reported that he left a load of wetter-than-usual corn in a grain cart overnight and found the grain was heating up already, losing a major percentage of its storage life.

“Once the storage life is gone, you can’t get it back,” Kohl said.

He said that as a whole, the vast majority of Iowa’s corn would not be able to withstand 300 storage days.

It’s moldy out there

“We have had and will have moldy corn in abundance,” said Charles Hurburgh, an ISU grain field specialist. Hurburgh has been on the front lines with producers since harvest helping producers with how to store and preserve as much quality in the grain as possible before it gets to market.

He told producers in November that they should watch the corn as closely as they would their own children.

Through much of the winter, which featured record cold temperatures at times, the fragile grain quality that existed was preserved, or at least the deterioration was slowed, Hurburgh told Farm News.

However, as temperatures warmed during the past two weeks, promising more warming to come, the grain will only be at more risk.

Due to wet harvest conditions, and not enough drying time for many producers, much of the corn went into storage at 20 percent or higher.

That means, Hurburgh said, “the storage life of this year’s crop was halved before it went into bins.” With the kernels softer from high moisture, light test weights due to delayed maturity “it just doesn’t keep well.”

In rural Paullina, in O’Brien County, grain producer Bruce Rowher said he feels fortunate. “So far, I’ve found nothing,” in terms of spoiled corn.

He’s been moving grain this spring to fulfill forward contracts.

He said he saw ear mold during the fall harvest. Those loads were allowed to dry extra long, Rowher said, below 13 percent.

“As it came out of the cooling bin, I used a grain cleaner to remove fines to ensure no pathogens would wake up this time of year.

“It seems to have worked, but we’ll keep watching it and stay on top of it.”

Nevertheless, although he has some better corn still in storage, the test weights were light last fall, he said, “so I don’t intend to keep it until late summer.”

In Odeboldt, producer John Scott said he is about out of grain. He lost 30 percent of his corn crop and 35 percent of his soybeans to the August 2009 hailstorm.

Scott said he’s heard reports of corn lodged so badly due to moldy spots that the bin’s trap was opened and nothing flowed forth.”

He too had light test weights due to the early frost disallowing corn to reach full maturity.

Producers reported some bins were not checked during the winter due to the heavy snow accumulations during December and January and now the approaches are too muddy to access bins.

Uses are limited

Hurburgh gave two reasons why moldy, or otherwise low-quality grain, is not suitable for ethanol plants.

  • The sugar level is compromised, so fermentation is affected. The plant can’t make enough ethanol from it to be profitable
  • If there are any toxins from the mold, those will still be present in the byproduct that goes into livestock feed, especially in dairy cattle, since certain toxins can survive the rumen and get into the milk.

One saving grace may be that elevators and ethanol plants can blend low-quality grain with higher quality thereby diluting the impact of the poorer grain. Hurburgh believes most elevators will be able to blend most grain loads if the corn isn’t too far gone.

“They’re in the business of blending and mixing,” he said.

Nevertheless, he said the large percentage of at-risk grain “should be moving to a dryer or to a market.

“(Now that) the temperature’s 40 degrees, it won’t keep.”

Hurburgh said that producers can try drying the corn a second time, “but that will only buy them a little time. It will heat up again.”

Another option is to keep fans running keeping the corn as cool as possible until it can be delivered somewhere.

Low quality grain can find a limited market with beef cattle producers, but at well-below current market prices.

ISU’s Kohl said that moldy corn has low palatability with cattle and its harder to get beef cattle to eat it, plus cattle will not gain weight on it as well, either.

“Expect the cattle producers to discount the grain to about half,” Kohl said. The rumen will destroy the molds and not hurt the cattle. However, moldy grain will have negatively affects if fed to poultry and swine.

Contact Larry Kershner at (515) 573-2141, Ext. 453, or by e-mail at kersh@farm-news.com.

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